Let the 2016 European Marathon begin; first stop: Lisbon, Portugal

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Oh my, my…I cannot believe it’s been almost 3 months since I’ve posted anything on my beloved Blog! It’s unforgivable…I know! I just haven’t had the time, discipline or inspiration to write anything…call it: “Bloggers block”! It’s quite unbelievable how time flies, so much has happened since my last post it makes my head spin. But before I freak out trying to figure out how to come back from the abyss with a fresh, new, fun blog; I need to decide where to start. How about I start with my 2016 European Marathon that I just completed; a two months summer journey across much of Europe that has just come to a close a few weeks ago.

A big reason I was so quiet for some time is that I was finishing up my hotel project in Beverly Hills and Brentwood; as I’m sure I mentioned already, I was hired to design two hotels in Los Angeles one a year ago and I just recently finished both projects. By the end of it, I was counting the days to get out of LA and fly away, no matter where. I’m like a tiger in a cage when I stay put in one city; I need to travel or I start going bananas!

My first destination is Lisbon, Portugal; I’ve been meaning to visit this city for so long but never got around it so the time has finally come. After a lovely flight on my beloved Swiss International Airlines from LAX to Zurich and then to Lisbon on the new Boing 777 planes with their new fab business class pods; I arrive in this very old city full of excitement and “Yes”, with a major jet-lag. I have a very dear friend from Lisbon that I’ve known for 30 years that and that I haven’t seen for 28 that will be showing me around and look after me. His name is Nuno and last time I saw him back in Los Angeles he was out of his mind…hopefully nothing has changed!

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where to stay in Lisbon between AirBnb or the large variety of amazing hotels dating back to the 18th century, some of them National Monuments. The one that stood out the most among the flurry of 5 star hotels was The Pestana Palace, a 19th-century palace that has been restored to its original glory. The hotel is an architectural marvel, its ornate ironwork, gilt-covered paneling, Chinoiserie elements and coffered ceilings complemented by classical furnishings and opulent fabrics, make you feel like royalty (www.pestanapalacelisbon.com).

I asked Nuno about it and he replied with an air of sass: “Well…Madonna stays there!!” Well, if it’s good for Madonna it must be good for me…snap! It was even better after I found out that Nuno’s good friend is the marketing director of the Hotel chain, so before you know it, I’m upgraded to a fabulous suite with an amazing terrace overlooking the old structure and the beautifully manicured grounds. Bingo!

 

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The grand entrance to the Pestana Palace in Lisbon

 

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The stunning 19th century Pestana Palace

 

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The coach house at the Pestana Palace

 

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My Uber Glam Suite

 

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My bedroom

 

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…and my terrace

 

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The breakfast room

 

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The pool and Chinese themed restaurant

 

The history of Lisbon is as fascinating as it is tragic; it was one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest in Western Europe, predating other modern European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by centuries. Prior to the 18th century, Lisbon had experienced several significant earthquakes but on November 1, 1755, the city was destroyed by another devastating earthquake, which killed a large percentage of its population and destroyed 85 percent of the city’s structures. After the 1755 earthquake, the city was completely rebuilt and you can still see to date, evidence of the old destruction. Portugal has also gone though a rough patch financially and you can’t avoid noticing the level of poverty in this city; that is in contrast with the newly discovered financial boom that has taken over the city in the last few years. Many of its stunning old buildings with their signature-tiled facades, are being restored, new museums are popping up everywhere and old ones are being updated. Not to mention the boom in the service industry with many amazing restaurants, hotels, bars and shopping areas.

On my first night out Nuno takes me to a local institution, Bica do Sapato (www.bicadosapato.com) and one of Lisbon’s first super trendy restaurants, co-owned by John Malkovich (don’t ask me why…). The old converted port building is quite fancy and the decor is definitely avant-garde, though you can see that it has reached his age; I try all sorts of delicious fish dishes, typical of the area, on a beautiful terrace overlooking the river and the bustle of ships arriving and departing from the Port of Cais da Pedra. Portuguese food is quite amazing with all sorts of influences from the many countries it mingled with through its ancient history. Portuguese people love to drink and smoke so I reluctantly adapt to their customs and join in. I don’t quite remember how I got home…but I did!

 

Restaurante Bica do Sapato em Lisboa, 19 Julho 2005.

Bica do Sapato Restaurant

 

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The bustling streets of Lisbon at night, packed with people

 

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Just had to take a photo of this small restaurant with a huge Octopus hanging form the ceiling…

 

The following day it’s time for my favorite activity: walk everywhere until your feet bleed! This is always the best way to see a new city and discover all its secrets. My main destinations are the usual suspects like: Praça Do Comércio, the trendy neighborhood of Chado and Baixa, the Medieval Castle and the Museum of Coaches. While in Chado I had the opportunity to visit my dear friend Pedro Girao, Chairman of the venerable Christie’s Auction House in England, who is a native Portuguese. He invited me to see his new apartment up high on the hill with the most incredible views of Lisbon; it’s castle and the water…just breathtaking!

 

img_9967The stunning mosaic floors typical of Lisbon


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Just another simple entryway to the Jerónimos Monastery

 

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Entrance to the President’s residence



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The odd looking 1902 Santa Justa elevator

 

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The Praça do Comércio

 

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Statue of King José I, by Machado de Castro (1775)

 

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One of the city’s standing churches still showing the damage of the 1775 earthquake

 

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Nuno and Robert Kass on Pedro Girau’s balcony

 

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The breathtaking views from Pedro Girau’s balcony in the Chado neighbourhood

 

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One of Chado’s oldest and most famous Cafés

 

Also on the list, is a local institution: Pastéis de Belém (www.pasteisdebelem.pt), a pastry shop of sorts that is world renowned for it’s signature custard canapés: a small puff pastry basket filled with an “Out of this world” custard, finished with a sprinkle of cinnamon…Orgasm!!!! I had no idea what I was dealing with until I arrived to the store and saw a line of people a mile long wrapped around the building…WOW, it must be good! Thankfully, Nuno’s brother in law owns the joint so we were quickly treated to this amazing dessert and a tour of the massive facility. The great thing about this little pieces of heaven is that they are only 60 calories apiece…of course I inhaled 15 of them.

 

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The lines at Pastéis de Belém

 

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Interior

 

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More interior

 

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The signature custard cups at Pastéis de Belém

 

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The door to the secret kitchen

 

The final treat of the day was visiting the newly constructed Coach Museum. I mean, who would build a museum for coaches? Well, the Portuguese did and now I know why! OMG, this museum holds the largest collection of 17-18 century coaches in the world and I cannot even start saying how impressive this exhibition is. Surprisingly, I was the only one in there. I mean really…people have no imagination! I highly suggest it to anyone visiting Lisbon…bring a tiara!

 

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Entrance to the Coach Museum

 

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The Imperial procession coach

 

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The week days coach

 

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The sporty coach

 

img_0027Amazing portable bed

 

The following day Nuno has arranged for a day trip to the popular beaches of Cascais, along the Estoril coastline, the stretch of shoreline that extends from Lisbon in the east to Cascais in the west (kind of their version of our Malibu) and a hike at the westernmost point of the European continent named Cabo da Roca where 2 large rocks, stand supreme on this amazing spot of the Portuguese coast. It’s definitely worth the time even though Nuno told me it would be a 1 hour drive, when in fact it turned onto a 4 hours. We even passed by an enormous, bizarre, yellow castle, in the middle of no-where, that the king of Portugal built in the 18th century as an identical copy of the Austrian Imperial Palace in Vienna; these monarch…really!!!


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Sculpture at Cabo da Roca at the westernmost point of Europe

 

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Nuno Ramos and Robert Kass at Cabo da Roca

 

On my last night, Nuno and Gang take me to the “Time Out Market” Food Hall (Like the magazine) l. This enormous warehouse hosts a number of local food pop-ups, wine sellers, local “Jamon” booth, dessert booths and just about anything your little stomach desires. It’s packed with young people and bustling with energy! We tried to find a table but that proved impossible so Nuno suggested we visit the more fancy restaurant on the second floor: Pap Acorda (www.papacorda.com). The space is beautiful and the food is decent, though not my favorite. The atmosphere is definitely the highlight of this eatery…and everyone smokes! This Food Hall is definitely a must see if you’re in Lisbon; also a great place to meet the locals. After dinner the marathon of bars and dives took center stage and, once again, I don’t remember how I got home…but I did!


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Time Out Market

 

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My clan

 

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Jamon shop at Time Out Market

 

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Pap’ Açorda Restaurant

 

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Group shot


img_9870And back to my Palace for the last night

 

What an amazing city and amazing people; Lisbon is truly a city of the future with the most important, glamorous and colorful past; Nuno was the best host and an amazing tour guide filled with pride and knowledge. I can’t wait to come back!!!

Part 1: Killing two birds with one stone in Mexico: Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s day.

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Part 1, Mexico City:

Today I’m off to one of my favorite cities in the world to research the real estate market for my new restaurant project in Mexico City. It will be a nice change going to the warm weather of Mexico after a week of freezing cold in Canada. It’s the 5th of May, which, in the US, is a big celebration of the Mexican independence “Cinco de Mayo”; the irony is that NO one celebrates this holiday in Mexico; it’s just an American manufactured holiday for the purpose of selling beer and tequila. Oh well…I guess no one here needs an excuse to drink beer and tequila…the least, me!

I’m exited to stay, once again, at my Mexican ”Brother from another mother” Eugenio Lopez’ amazing Polanco penthouse, surrounded by one of the best art collections of contemporary art in the country. I’m a little concerned about the news that Mexico City is experiencing one of the worst air pollution in its history; something like smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day just by breathing the air….I’m glad I stopped smoking! To try and contain this urgent problem the city has come up with a system of allowing only half the cars in the city to operate on certain days of the week and the other half on the remaining days of the week. Pretty cleaver if you ask me; it forces people to use public transportation…not that I would be happy with that!

I immediately notice the difference when Eugenio’s driver picks me up at the airport and there is no traffic on the way to his home. Mexico City is renowned for one of the worst traffic congestion in the world and today it took us only 15 minutes to get to our destination, a trip that usually takes one hour and a half. I’ve been a guest at Eugenio’s home several times before, so Its always fun to come back and see all the friendly faces that work for him, especially his personal chef Lupita who always spoils me with the most delicious Mexican specialties during my stay. Eugenio is in full form and I am quickly updated on our busy schedule of dinners and parties and who know what…it’s never a dull moment with my Eugenio!


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They have really big spiders in Mexico…bring bug spray!

 

IMG_9085Amazing contemporary art just outside my bedroom

 

After a quick change of clothes, we are going to one of the city’s best restaurants: La Rosetta (www.rosetta.com.mx) where we are meeting up with his Mexican contingent. The elegant restaurant is spread through several rooms in a stunning old mansion house in the city’s Roma district, in Colonia Roma and it is renewed across town for its delicious and simple Italian food with a Mexican influence by chef Elena Reygadas. Dinners are very long in Mexico, just like Europe, they loooove sitting at the table for hours and hours. At the risk of sounding rude, I must take my leave; I’m beat from getting up at 5am in LA to travel to Mexico, so after my 5th Vodka Tonic, I excuse myself and retire in my fabulous Polanco penthouse.


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The beautiful 18th century villa turned into the restaurant Rosetta

 

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More Rosetta Restaurant

 

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The hilarious Christian Hannig and Claudia Zacarias

 

My morning starts with one of the best possible treats I can think of: Lupita’s famous Chilaquiles…in bed! There are no words to describe how good this classic Mexican breakfast dish is, with fried “Totopos”, green chile salsa, roasted chicken, Crème Fraiche with a side of beans and Mexican cheese…YUMMY! As I mentioned before, I am here in Mexico City to look at locations for my new restaurant project, so I have my brother David picking me up to spend the day driving around Polanco and La Roma to look at potential spots. It’s amazing to see how many high-end American restaurants, such as Nobu, Morton’s and Mr. Chow, are popping up everywhere in the rich areas of Mexico City, a definite sign of the emerging upper-class starving for luxury goods and services and high-end restaurants. For lunch we stop at one of my favorite cafés in Polanco, the darling Maison Belen (www.maisonbelen.net); a charming café where you can enjoy all sorts of Mexican and American brunch dishes on a lovely, sunny terrace.

 

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Lupita’s famous Chilaquiles…in bed!

 

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Nobu in Polanco

 

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Mr. Chow…opening soon in Polanco

 

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Uriarte, my favorite Mexican pottery store in Polanco

 

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Maison Belen in Polanco

 

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The lovely display of pastries at Maison Belen in Polanco



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Two “Packing” gentlemen fixing my bedroom TV…only in Mexico!

 

It’s now 4pm or otherwise know as siesta time! I’m dropped off at Eugenio’s home so I can rest for a few hours before getting ready for Charro Salinas’s birthday party tonight. Charro is the son of the ex president of Mexico Carlos Salinas, and he’s having a sit-down dinner at the iconic Mexican restaurant Cicero Centenario, in the Zona Rosa of the city (the naughty area…), a breathtaking 18th century building decorated in colonial style with amazing traditional Mexican food…right up my alley! We arrive at 10pm, on a 9pm dinner invitation, and we are the only ones at the restaurant beside the birthday boy and his girlfriend; That is typical Mexican behavior: 9pm means 11-12am; don’t try fighting it, it’s not going to change…ever!!!!

 

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Cicero’s amazing dining room

 

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The bar at Cicero

 

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Cicero’s dining room

 

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Delicious ceviche at Cicero’s


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Alvaro and me drunk

 

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Mariachis playing all night long behind me

 

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Cake time for Charro Salinas’s birthday

 

By 11:30pm the party is in full swing and I get to meat the most wonderful people, starting with Alvaro Ariza, a local restauranteur and the gorgeous, club owner Karla Deregil among many others. I will say, Mexicans are so incredibly polite and charming and always going out of their way to make you fell welcomed and comfortable. Four hours later and 8 margueritas in, my new best friend Karla, kidnaps me, along with Alvaro, from Charro’s dinner and whisks us through the streets of DF in her chauffeured Cadillac to her night club: M N Roy, named after Manabendra Nath Roy, the Indian born revolutionary and founder of the Mexican communist party. Of course, M N Roy is the hottest underground club in Mexico City and within an hour it is packed to the hilt with beautiful people, dancing to the tunes of DJ “Gordo”. Though plenty of fun, I manage to escape around 4am, totally exhausted and desperately ready to get into my comfy bed back at Eugenio’s. Buenas noches amigos!!!

 

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The gorgeous Karla and DJ “Gordo” at N M Roy night club

 

It’s morning again, or should I say, almost afternoon and I’m just waiting to see what will appear at my bed for breakfast today; after ringing the bell my the bed (I know…super fancy!), a tray with Huevos Rancheros arrives and they are as delicious as the Chilaquiles from yesterday; I could get used to this really easily!!! It’s time to get out of this bed, pack and get ready for my brother David who’s picking me up to drive to Cuernavaca to surprise my mother for Mother’s Day on Sunday. It’s been a wacky 48 hours and I’m so thankful to my dear friend Eugenio for treating me to yet another great time in his beautiful city!!! I can’t wait to open a business here so I have a reason to come here more often.

 

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Huevos Rancheros in bed…as one does!

 

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Amazing view of Chapultepec Castle and park from Eugenio’s penthouse

 

Part 2, Cuernavaca…coming soon.

Discovering the ancient African Spice Capital: Stone Town

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It’s really hard to get out of my very comfortable bed today, but I must! It’s going to be a long day of discovery, adventure, incredible heat and humidity and tasting of new foods with the hopes I will not get food poisoning. After a lovely breakfast on the terrace, I venture out the busy, narrow streets of Stone Town; they are lined with shops selling everything from tourist crap to bad African arts & craft, to colorful fine art and just abut anything else you can imagine. The merchants are quite aggressive and don’t shy away from calling you out loud to sell you their trinkets; One local kid looks at me and calls me out loudly: “Jumbo, Jumbo!!!”. Immediately I think he’s calling me Jumbo because of my “slightly” over weight condition; not even a few minutes after, another one addresses me as “Jumbo”. That continued throughout the day to the point where I became really annoyed at the “cheek” of these people to make fun of my weight so shamelessly…how rude!!!! It was only later that evening when I was telling my friend Tina the story that she burst out in hysterical laughter and informed me that “Jumbo” means “Hello” in Swahili. I never felt so stupid; I gave every one who called me “Jumbo” the dirtiest looks all day long when In fact, they were just being kind and welcoming…such a Meryl Streep moment in “Out of Africa”!!!

 

IMG_8126 (1)The amazing Colonial architecture of Stone Town


IMG_8123 (1)The famous roof tops of Stone Town

 

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Arriving at the historic Emerson Spice Hotel

 

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Entrance of the Emerson Spice Hotel

 

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The amazing carved wood terraces

 

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Walking around these narrow streets, you get a sense of claustrophobia after a while and you never really know where you are; but it doesn’t matter, there is so much to see: the amazing 18-19 century colonial architecture that still remains, though in much need of restoration; the well-known, finely decorated wooden doors, with rich carvings and bas-reliefs, sometimes with big brass studs of Indian tradition . Stone Town’s architecture has a number of distinctive features, as a result of Arab, Persian, Indian, European, and African traditions mixing together. The name “Stone Town” comes from the ubiquitous use of coral stone as the main construction material; this stone gives the town a characteristic, reddish warm colour. Another Stone Town famous feature, is its rooftop lifestyle: cafés, restaurants and lounges are often on the top floor or the rooftop of their 4-5-6 story buildings, where you can escape the sweltering heat from below, while enjoying the breeze, the amazing views of the town’s roofs and the ocean. The Arabian, Persian, Indian style is evident in most of the interiors around here; you really feel like you’re on the set of “Alibaba” or that Rita Hayworth will pop out any minute now, wrapped in silk, ready to enchant you with her “Seven veils dance”.

 

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Zanzibar’s famous carved wood doors

 

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“I beg to differ…”

 

After what seems like hours walking around in circles, I stumble into the Coffee House Café, which I read about on the Internet; apparently it’s the most famous Café in Zanzibar and a favorite of the international tourism, an immediate “red flag” for me! However, since I am there, I might as well check it out. As expected it’s full of tourist and besides the fabulous local ladies behind the counter with their classic African turbans on their heads, it’s not for me, so off I go searching for the town’s main market: Darajani Market. This is the heart of the town and it’s bustling with activity; there is no better place to get the pulse of the people and a view in their way of life and what they eat than a visit to their main market. Once there, it’s a violent stimulations of the senses and It’s not for the faint hearted, in fact, some areas of the market are really hard to be in because of the foul smell of some of their foods; but most of it is filled with spices, plenty of exotic fruits and a real delight to shop around. Being the “Gourmand” that I am, I can’t resist buying al sorts of local Curries, Masalas, hot chilies and the best Vanilla beans in the world…I hope they won’t take them at the US customs.

 

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The famous Zanzibar Coffee House

 

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Interior of The Coffee House

 

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Interior of The Coffee House

 

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Arriving at the Darajani Market

 

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Darajani Market

 

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Darajani Market

 

IMG_8098The meat hall…I wonder if the cat is included?



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Dried octopus and other oddities (really smelly too)

 

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The narrow passages at the market

 

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Stone Town’s famous spices

 

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IMG_8108Bananas everywhere

 

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One of the thousand beautiful displays at the market

 

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By far my favorite photo of the month

 

I think I’m done with culture for the day, I got mud all over my feet from the muddy, unpaved streets and it appears I have some new friends following me…cats! Must be the smells of flesh I picked up while visiting the meat market. I’m feeling a little light-headed from the heat and I hate to say, but that infinity pool back at the Park Hyatt, is looking mighty fine now! I’m ready to go back to my comfort zone! On the way back I make a few mandatory stops at The “House of wonders”, formally the Sultan’s residence, built in 1883; It was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity as well as the first building in East Africa to have an elevator…how about that? I also visit to the Old Fort, a heavy stone fortress that was built in the 17th century by the Omanis to protect the city from European invasions; the internal courtyard is now a cultural centre with shops, workshops, and a small arena where live dance and music shows are held daily.

It’s sad to see how many of their heritage monuments are literally falling apart due to the paralyzing poverty that plagues this continent. With regard to Tanzania, perhaps thing are looking up and maybe the near future will bring some much-needed help to provide a better life for its citizens and much needed funds to restore their beautiful monuments.

 

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An old photo of the House of Wonders

 

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A new photo of The House of Wonders

 

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The building is sadly falling apart

 

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House of Wonders

 

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Another fabulous Colonial building typical of Zanzibar

 

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The Old Fort of Stone Town

 

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Kids playing football in from of my hotel at dusk

 

Once again, I will spend I quiet evening on my own at the hotel in preparation for tomorrow departure, with my friend Tina, to the other side of the island of Zanzibar, in an area called: Kendwa Beach, that apparently has the most amazing, pristine, white sand beaches in the world…I’ll be a judge of that!

Goodnight Possums: “Jumbo, Jumbo!!!”

 

Today’s destination: Stone Town, Zanzibar

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After packing and a quick breakfast, Tina’s driver is waiting for us outside to take us to the national airport in Dar es Salaam for my short 20 minutes flight to the mystical island of Zanzibar, an ancient and historic trade center with Swahili and Islamic influences. Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. On its main island, Unguja, familiarly called Zanzibar, is Stone Town, The northern villages Nungwi and Kendwa have wide white sand beaches lined with hotels; I’ll be staying there later in the week,

Driving on the main road to the airport, you can’t help noticing the incredible amount of construction going on in Dar es Salaam, hundreds and hundreds of new buildings and skyscrapers all mixed in with the old decrepit small business and what appear like mud homes where people live in; all lining the unpaved streets bustling with thousands of street vendors and activity. The paradox between old and new Africa seems to burst trough the seams. Once we arrive to the airport we are attacked by third party travel agents that wait for the “unaware” to pounce and sell you tickets to wherever you are going (It’s always better to buy your air tickets on line through proper travel websites) . Tina and I fall immediately into the trap, but once we realized what was going on, Ms. Thing pulled out that Swiss Airlines badge, like a DEA agent in the movies, stormed through security, barged into Coastal Aviation office (the main local airline) and demanded NOT to be messed with!!! I just stood by quietly with a grin of proudness on my face until she was done and I had a super cheep ticket to Zanzibar in just under one hour…”Not that’s how it’s done in Switzerland…bitches!!!”.

 

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Check-in

 

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Of course there had to be the “Out of Africa Cafe” at the airport

 

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Simple but effective…good cappuccino and grilled ham and cheese sandwich

 

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Not much traffic today

 

Tina is not coming with me today, in fact, she has to fly back to Zurich for work but will be rejoining me in 3 days in Stone Town. So after a short wait at the “Out of Africa” Café (Imagine that…), it’s time to board this really scary, small, beaten-up bucket they call a plane! It’s a 10 seater Cessna and pretty much the only choice for traveling inside Tanzania, so I better get ahold of myself and squeeze myself through the inhumanly narrow isle to reach my inhumanly small seat behind the pilot…at least if we go down, I’ll have the best view! When you finally reach cruising altitude the fear of flying is replaced by the sheer beauty out the window of the Indian coast line, the turquoise waters and corral reefs…Just Amazing!!!

 

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This is the flying bucket that will be taking me to Zanzibar

 

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God help me…

 

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Dar es Salaam’s coat and the deserted island I had lunch at yesterday

 

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Corral reefs sufronding the island of Zanzibar

 

Before you know it we land in Zanzibar…Get me out of this plane already! Like all the other airports in Tanzania, this one too, is chaotic and no one quite knows what is gong on and where you are supposed to go, but eventually you work it out and reach the outside parking area where hundreds of drivers and Taxi men are fighting for you business. Through the mob I see a smiley, bright eyed, thin young man wearing a Moroccan white crisp clean tunic, holding a gold framed sign with “Mr. Kass” on it…a sign of relieve takes over me as I wave away: “here, here…” just like Meryl did on “Out of Africa”.

 

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And here we are!

 

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Where is mine???

 

When I was looking into which hotel to stay in Stone Town, I was reluctant to consider the newly finished and only proper 5 star hotel in the island: The Park Hyatt (www.zanzibar.park.hyatt.com). I usually try to pick local brads or independent hotels; I always feel you get a much better feel for the local culture and experience as you would by staying in the big, foreign chain. But the whole story I read about Park Hyatt buying a beachfront, 17th century mansion on the Indian ocean and restoring it to it’s formal glory in such great taste…I couldn’t resist! I picked The Park Hyatt and I’m on my way and I’m not apologetic…BTW, it’s always good to mix it up a little when you’re visiting 3rd world countries: doesn’t hurt to throw in a few “5 stars” moments in the mix, now and then. My love affair with the Park Hyatt Zanzibar starts at the entrance of the hotel…I just know! The architecture, the design and attention that went into re-storing this building is obvious the moment you arrive; beyond chic and so respectful of the integrity of the original building and it’s environment…well done! I spend the late afternoon exploring the many areas of this oceanfront stunner and even more time enjoying my brand new, super comfortable, colonial, four-post bed and all the many state of-the-art amenities this hotel offers. The temperature is stifling and probably 100% humidity, so I rather hang out in the infinity pool for the rest of the day and wait till sundown before venturing out in the small town.

 

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The stunning 17th century building that is the new Park Hyatt Hotel

 

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The elegant Arabic entrance of the Hyatt Hotel Zanzibar

 

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Stunning lobby

 

IMG_7963Sitting room


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My Ali Baba suite…so thrilled!

 

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More…

 

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Now this is a bathroom

 

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I’ll be sending lots of time here

 

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View from my room



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The hotel’s Bar

 

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The amazing infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean

 

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More…

 

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Terrace

 

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Detail

 

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The Tanzanian classic fishing boat on the horizon

 

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Sunset from my bedroom

 

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Park Hyatt

 

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Park Hyatt

 

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Park Hyatt

 

The town of Stone Town is a very complicated grid of winding narrow streets, filled with shops, art galleries, hotels, cafés, minarets, stunning carved doorways and 19th-century landmarks such as the House of Wonders, a former sultan’s palace. It’s impossible to find your way in this maze but you can only end up in two places if you get lost…and you will: the ocean or the Daranjani Market square; from where you can find your way home. Tonight I’m going to have a quick walk around at the Forodhani Gardens, the town’s main square, in front of the Old Fort, where all the locals congregate after work to eat and hang out and where all the food vendors cook up a myriad of local delights, mostly from the ocean, that they sell in the dark square lit by hundreds of gas lights.

 

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Amazing architecture

 

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One of the many roof-top Cafés in Stone Town

 

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Local children huddled around a few TV playing video games

 

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Street vendors in the Gardens of Forodhani

 

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The amazing food displays in the main square

 

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The Floating Restaurant

 

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One of the many Restaurants in Stone Town

 

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Arabesque architecture

 

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There is something so magical about hanging out in this square on the Oceanside; the energy, the smells, the people, the colors, and the foods…it’s so intoxicating! There are hundreds of scrawny little cats everywhere; I wonder how many end up on the dining table. There are so many interesting looking foods displayed on portable tables, some of which I have never seen and no shortage of sales people calling you out to try their delights; I usually don’t have any problems eating food from street vendors in any country I visit, in fact, I love doing that…that’s how you really get to experience the local fare!!!! But tonight I decide to treat myself to a delicious dinner in my hotel, in that beautiful terrace overlooking the water, with a good glass of wine, proper china and white linens. Tomorrow I will properly explore the locals’ foods and customs…. I promise!

My King fish with Curry dinner is amazing and after a few glasses of South African wine by myself, it’s time for some of that amazing bathtub action before curling up in my 4-poster-bed for a movies and much needed rest.

“Kwaheri” everyone…or good night

 

IMG_8078King fish with Curry

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Great end to a perfect day!

Off to a Castle in Lucerne, Switzerland for 24 hours for work…we do that every now and then!

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The flight from Paris to Lucerne is only 35 minutes, so before you have a chance to drink your cup of coffee, you’re already landing in Zurich. I rent my favorite Italian car: Alfa Romeo, for the 1-hour drive to Lucerne. Lucerne is located in central Switzerland; amid snowcapped mountains on the north end of Lake Lucerne…imagine that! With its enchanting, colorful old town, its 14th-century Museggmauer city walls, the turreted buildings, this place is truly the storybook image of a Swiss town. But the most famous landmark in Lucerne is the The Kapellbrücke Bridge.

Translated, the Chapel Bridge is a covered wooden footbridge spanning diagonally across the Reuss River in the city of Lucerne in central Switzerland. Named after the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel, the bridge is unique since it contains a number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century, although many of them were destroyed along with most of the centuries-old bridge in a 1993 fire. Subsequently restored, the Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, as well as the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge. It serves as the city’s symbol and as one of Switzerland’s main tourist attractions.

I am her to meet my dear friend Javier Millership’s father for some Service Industry consulting work; we’re meeting at his company’s latest acquisition: the iconic 1888 Château Gütsch, a palatial hotel in a 19th-century, belle époque-style castle on top of a mountain peak overlooking the entire city. When you arrive at this property you really gasp at the beauty of this dramatic building and most of all, the incredible view from practically everywhere you look. Mr. Millership has arranged a stunning balcony room in the main castle with the best view in the house. After making myself comfortable and taking 100 photos of the view, I decide to go to town for the afternoon before my dinner meeting with Mr. Milleship. I haven’t been in Lucerne for many years; I think the last time must have been one of those school trips we used to take so often at my school. Tough it’s a splendid city, it’s just not on my radar, far to tranquil for little old me, furthermore, German is not my best language so I tend to avoid. I always feel like I’m walking into a Swiss version of Disneyland when I walk around the streets of Lucerne; its just so damn cute and charming with it’s steeples and bridges and the most beautiful golden hanging signs from building I have ever seen. You’re just waiting for Heidi to pop out of nowhere and make you hot Swiss chocolate.

It’s time to go back to the Castle and get ready for my meeting. We are having dinner at the hotel tonight on the terrace overlooking all of Lucerne; I’m exited to try the food and get to know Mr. Milleship, considering I adore his son! The rest is pretty much all business and probably not to interesting for my spoiled readers; so I’ll make this a short post and reconnect with you after I arrive in Los Angeles…Yes, tomorrow I’m off again to Lala Land to get ready for the Christmas season…my favorite season of all!!!!

Ho Ho Ho…

 

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The Chateau Gutsch on top of its mountain peak

 

IMG_4108Arriving at Chateau Gutsch


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Front facade of Chateau Gutsch and my balcony suite right at the middle

 

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The first photo of many to come of the spectacular view from my bedroom balcony

 

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The torrets of Chateau Gutsch

 

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Another breathtaking view from my balcony

 

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More…

 

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My cute bedroom


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The main Salon

 

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The Bar lounge

 

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The Bar

 

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The City’s landmark: Kapellbrücke Bridge

 

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Kapellbrücke Bridge

 

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A feathered visitor

 

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The 17th century paintings on the Kapellbrücke Bridge

 

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The beautiful tower at Kapellbrücke Bridge

 

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17th century Germanic style architecture on this old town church

 

IMG_4167The stunning Hanging Signs all over the Old Town

 

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More…

 

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The Reuss River with its beautiful buildings

 

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Robert Kass and Mr. Millership having an after dinner drink at the Bar

Ralph Lauren, Picasso and George V…that’s my idea of a perfect day!

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Bonjour Paris!!!!!

Just so exited to be here! Today I am going to all my favorite foodie places to buy presents for my friends and family back home. First stop: Maille, the best Dijon Mustard in the world since 1747… I guess It must be good if they’ve been around for so long. This shop is soooooo charming with it’s old fashion store front in the corner of Place La Madeleine and the renovated interiors showcasing the biggest selection of flavored mustards I have ever seen. You have the choice of the classic pre-bottled jars or you can get the fresh mustard right off the “Gun”; just like a draft beer, mustard comes out of the spout and into a porcelain Maille Jar, sealed with a cork and ready for travel; amazingly, good mustard stays good for 1 year if refrigerated. I buy 1 large, medium heat Chardonnay Mustard Jar and one large Hot Mama, Chablis Mustard Jar as well for those randy days in LA…I have no clue what I mean by that! Mustard…Check!

 

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The stunning store front of Maille

 

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The many flavors of Maille’s mustards

 

P1060027The mustard Bar

 

It’s Macaroon time and where else but Ladurée around the corner from Maille on 18 Rue Royal. Ladurée is a French luxury bakery and sweets maker house created in 1862; it is one of the top premier sellers of the double-decker macaron, fifteen thousand of which are sold every day in the many new locations around Paris and the world. Once you walk inside you can’t help being mesmerized by the many colors and flavors of Macaroons, so beautifully displayed, calling your name! They are not cheap but worth every penny and every calorie. It’s fun filling the old fashion, 8 piece boxes with all different flavors; my favorite: Chocolate and Pistachio. Needless to say, by the time I make it out of there, I’ve ingested at least 6 macaroons myself…well how would I know what to buy if I don’t try them and find out which ones I love? Macaroons…Check!

 

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The delicious Ladurée boutique on Rue Royal

 

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Ladurée’s famous macaroons

 

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The Ladurée macaroon selection chart

 

2014-01-31-19-43-49Ladurée’s beautiful macaroon gift boxes

 

Finally, it’s off to Fauchon on the other corner of Place La Madeleine. Founded in 1886 in Paris, Fauchon is a Parisian institution and an international gourmet food company, which sells a wide range of own-brand products including delicatessen, cakes and pastry, breads, confectionery. The packaging and fabulous selection make it a must when visiting Paris, even though it’s quite touristy…oh well. I stock up on their amazing Fois Gras de Canard, some exotic teas for Mom, a few Éclairs down my throat and…Check!

 

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Fauchon at the Place de Madeleine

 

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The amazing Fauchon store

 

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A mouthwatering display of Eclairs

 

Time flies when you’re having fun! It’s 1PM and I’m ready for an American lunch at Ralph Lauren’s new restaurant on 173 Boulevard Saint Germain in the Latin Quarter of Paris. I know it’s a scandal to be eating American food when in Paris, but you got to take a little breather from French rich food every now and then with a light and fluffy Cobb Salad…Just let me believe that! I am meeting my lovely friends: Vincent Simonet, Luc Cartier and Diane for the usual boozy, LOL kind of luncheon. The beautiful new Ralph Lauren’s restaurant is inside the courtyard of the impressive new clothing store in Paris; it’s decorated as only Ralph would, totally chic outdoors veranda surrounded by flowers and RL pillows and fabrics. The menu is definitely American fair and well executed, I must say; the waiter was a laugh and a half…or maybe it was us…I don’t remember. This place is red, hot, popular and apparently, very difficult to get a reservation, though I walked up to the hostess stand with no reservation and talked my way into a beautiful table in 10 minutes…experience darling, experience!


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Entrance to Ralph Lauren’s new St. Germain restaurant


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The beautiful courtyard at Ralph Lauren

 

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Our pretty table at Ralph Lauren

 

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Leather Menu

 

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My delicious Cobb Salad

 

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Vincent’s Chicken Paillard

 

Though I could spend the entire day with this lot, laughing and drinking away, I can’t get to loopy because I am going to visit one of my favorite artists in the universe: Pablo Picasso’s newly re-furbished Museum. “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it,” Pablo Picasso reportedly said; and the city of Paris did just that! The renovated Picasso Museum closed since 2009 for renovation, finally reopened in 2015 in the Hôtel Salé, a spectacular Baroque 17th-century mansion in the Marais district. What can you say about Picasso that hasn’t already been said; he’s the MASTER, he’s the one who changed art forever and brought it to the new century; he’s a genius and a great inspiration in my life! The new museum does him justice; it’s so beautiful and grand with it’s dramatic staircase in the middle of it; I’m sure Picasso would be proud. After spending 4 hours in the museum with a very bored Raphael, who was done at 1 hour; we finally make our way home for a siesta before dinner at another landmark restaurant in Paris: L’Avenue on Rue Montaigne.

 

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Picasso Museum

 

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Picasso Museum entrance

 

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The stunning staircase at the Picasso Museum

 

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Robert Kass contemplating Picasso’s work

 

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Picasso’s work

Tonight I’m meeting Luc Cartier and Diane again for a night of laugher and lots of booze, because that’s the way we roll with this group. L’Avenue restaurant is a staple in Paris’s high-society and a favorite amongst the who’s who of rich and famous Americans…usually not my kind of place: too trendy and way to snobby! But I do make an exception for L’Avenue because of its amazing Steak Tartare and sublime Potato Purée and believe me, I don’t say this lightly! Definitely worth dealing with the thick layer of attitude and snobbery that this place delivers with no apology day after day! I always enjoy letting out an occasional burp in here just to see the expression of disgust on the faces of these “Larger than life” characters…”Oh mon Dieu”. Dinner is amazing and after 3 bottles of Burgundy the three musketeers are ready to wabble over to our favorite Bar in Paris: the Uber Chic Bar at the George V Hotel, just a few blocks away from L’Avenue.

 

IMG_6846L’Avenue restaurant on Avenue Montaigne


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One needs a cocktail before choosing what to have for dinner…

 

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The best Steak Tartare in Paris along with the best Mashed Potatoes in the universe

 

The George V is yet another institution in Paris and one of the best Hotels in the city for a century! I’ve been visiting this hotel since childhood; it was my Mom and Dad’s favorite in Paris in the old days and it continued to dazzle me to present day. An added bonus is my friend Jeff Leatham’s spectacular flower arrangements that have adorned this Hotel for many years now, setting it aside form the rest. It’s really expensive here, but if you can afford it, it’s really worth the experience it delivers to its guests. If you’re looking for a great drink, nothing beats the Lychee Martini that is shaken, not stirred, at your table by a young, beautiful bartender. Impossible to get  table here too, but thankfully, Mr. Cartier has been boozing it up in here for many years, so we were immediately greeted with great fanfare and seated at the best table in the house! Morale of the story? It helps to have boozy friends…

 

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One of Jeff Leatham’s beautiful arrangements at George V Hotel in Paris

 

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More Jeff Leatham genius at George V Hotel

 

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George V courtyard dripping in orchids

 

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George V super chic bar

 

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My favorite seat at George V’s Bar

 

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My favorite cocktail: Lychee Martini

 

Now we are seriously tipsy and it’s probably a good idea to wabble back home before we start swinging from chandeliers and get kicked out. That’s the great thing about Paris; you can always drink a little too much and then shake it off with a nice walk back home, while looking at the most beautiful city sights humanity has ever created.

 

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Amazing view of the eiffel Tower on the way home

 

One thing I know, If I make it to my old age, this is the city I will live in; I can’t imagine anywhere more inspiring and fulfilling than Paris. Good night possums…

 

 

The perfect Parisian day: Art, Fashion, Food & Wine

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Waking up in Paris makes me instantly happy, there is something about this magnificent city that inspires and puts me immediately in a great mood. The first thing one does in Paris is get out of the house and get your morning croissant and Café au Lait in one of the million cafés present in every street and neighborhood; we pick Au Rocher de Cancale, which happens to be just across the street from our apartment in the bustling, pedestrian neighborhood of Montorgueil. Beside the Swiss, no one makes croissants as good as the French, it’s something with the water and butter and flour that just cannot be replicated; the Swiss counterpart: the “Gibfel”, is pretty close but still not as good. There is nothing like having your morning coffee and croissant, sitting on a sidewalk in Paris witnessing the daily hustle and bustle unfolding in front of you…it’s just magic! After breakfast it’s off to the local market and one of my favorite Boulangeries in Paris: Eric Kayser, for some baguettes and basic French must-have in the fridge: butter of Normandy, any kind of French cheese and a few bottles of French wine…et voilà!

 

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Eric Kayser Boulangerie

 

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Paul Boulangerie on Montorgueil

 

IMG_5253One of our neighborhood Brasseries

 

Today we are going to two amazing exhibition in two of the most iconic building in Paris: one very old and one just recently completed, the Grand Palais and the new Frank Gehry, Louis Vuitton Foundation. The Grand Palais is featuring an exhibit on Jean Paul Gaultier, the super-famous-genius French designer that exploded in the eighties with his innovative and daring new style of design that broke all rules and conceptions and opened up the door for more daring designer such as John Galliano and Rick Owens. I was just in my twenties when Gaultier rose to the top of the fashion world and, as many others, I became a huge fan and a total Galutier fashonista, I dressed head to toe in Gaultier for many years, earning the nickname: fashion victim. Looking back at photos of some of the outfits I was wearing in those days I can’t help but cringe at the depth of my dedication for this designer to the point of looking totally ridiculous in some of his outfits. That’s the eighties for you sister! So you can imagine my excitement on the way to the beautiful Grand Palais by the Seine for my pre-reserved VIP tickets to Jean Paul’s exhibit (with all the money I spent on his clothing in the past I should get a private viewing by Jean Paul Gaultier himself). As expected the exhibit is beyond fantastic with so many of his iconic work and some I never saw before; Madonna’s infamous and trend setting stage collection that he designed for her “Truth of dare” tour in 1891, to the Sex Pistols’ costumes to his Pocahontas wedding frock…just mind boggling!!!!

 

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Jean Paul Gaultier”s exhibition at the Gran Palais

 

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Classic Gaultier

 

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Genius at work

 

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More Gaultier

 

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Madonna’s “Truth or dare’ tour costume

 

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Pocahontas wedding frock

 

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Silly turists unleashed

 

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When in Paris…

 

IMG_5405Humpty Dumpty…

 

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Pont Alexandre III

 

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Paris Love Locks Bridge

 

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Notre Dame cathedral

 

After a nice walk and sightseeing by the Seine and over the Pont Alexander the 3rd and the usual silly tourist photos with the Eiffel Tower (see below…), It’s time for lunch and I can’t think of anything better than the legendary Les Deux Magots   (www.lesdeuxmagots.fr) in the Rive Gauche, a classic Parisian Café serving up classic brasserie dishes since 1812. Only in Paris you have these iconic places that have been around for hundreds of years that give you such a sense of history, pride and tradition that is hard to find anywhere else…I just LOVE IT!!!! I have my usual Steak Tartar; a mix salad with a bottle of Rosé from Provence and Raphael salivates over a perfectly cooked Steak Frites that only the French know how to do. No rest for the wicked…it’s back to the culture train and off to the Foundation Louis Vuitton. The $143 million museum has recently been completed and opened its doors on October 2014; the building is designed by Los Angeles based, famed architect Frank Gehry, and is adjacent to the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne of the 16th arrondissement of Paris. Commissioned by Bernard Arnault, the Chairman of the fashion empire LVMH, this new addition to the must-do list in Paris is a true beacon of architecture and innovation and a shrine dedicated to promoting art and young artists…music to my soul! The collection is amazing and so diverse from Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to Richard Prince and Andres Gursky and a video-sound installation that will take your breath away.

 

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Les Deux Magots Brasserie in the Left Bank

 

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Les Deux Magots Menu

 

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Les Deux Magots place setting

 

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Les Deux Magots outdoor terrace



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Fondation Louis Vuitton by Frank Gehry

 

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Fondation Louis Vuitton Exhibit

 

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Frank Gehry’s masterpiece

 

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Exhibition halls

 

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Warhol

 

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

 

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Richard Prince

 

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Sensational Audio/video installation

 

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Art

 

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More silly turists at the Arc de Triomphe

 

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Lines on people outside the Louis Vuitton boutique on the Champs Elisées

 

I think I’ve reached my Cultural Nirvana; it’s time to go back to my lovely Parisian apartment for an afternoon tea, baguette and cheese and a glass of Beaujolais. One of my best friends in Paris, the very handsome and talented opera singer Vincent Simonet, has suggested we have dinner in this tiny little restaurant in the Passage de Panorama named Racines; I trust Vincent’s taste for he is a full-on gourmand as I am. The place has 8 tables and is located in this lovely indoor gallery lined with many little restaurants, one more damn cute than the other; it would be impossible to pick one if I didn’t already know where to go.  I start with the Boudin Noir, a French specialty made with Cow’s blood (I know…yummy!!!) and then the best Entrecôte to Cochon Ibérique I have ever had in my life!!!! Pair all that with a beautiful Bourgogne a Crème tender du Chocolat Noir to finish up and it’s food coma…again!!!! The amazing thing about Paris is that you walk everywhere and having a nice walk after a meal is the best way to digest and get a little workout between really, really fattening meals. We are pretty close to Les Halles neighborhood, one of my favorites in Paris, so tonight we really go for it and after what seems like hours, we finally retire at 2am for some much needed sleep.

 

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Passage de Panoramas

 

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Racines restaurant

 

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Front on Racines restaurant

 

IMG_5424Racines Menu

IMG_5425Entrecôte to Cochon Ibérique

 

What an amazing day: Gaultier, Vuitton!!! It’s incredible how fashion is and has always been such a monumental part of the cultural, social and artistic development of this city, it’s part of the DNA of these people and its evident in every aspect of French daily life. Paris is my favorite city in the world and after years of coming here, I am still in awe of it’s culture and traditions and its determination to put life’s little pleasure before possession and accumulation; they really give the old saying: “Stop and smell the roses” a whole new meaning!!!!

“Bonne nuit mes amis…a domain”. Le zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Visiting the iconic Riva Motorboats headquarter in Monte Carlo and off to Paris for din dins

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Good morning hangover! Nothing better than packing and trying to pull it together with 3 hours sleep and a hangover…oh well! After the dreaded walk of shame through the lobby, to the reception to pay my bill, we get in our rented Fiat 500 for the 3 hour drive to Monaco where we will have lunch and visit the Riva Yachts headquarter, or otherwise known as the Rolls Royce of boats. I still remember when I was a kid going to Portofino and Santa Margherita-Ligure in Italy; with my dad and my older brother every summer and spending most days cruising the Riviera on his beautiful Riva Aquarama Special, probably the most beautiful and glamorous speedboat in existence. Years later, my then step-mother Joan Collins also purchased a Riva Bravo, which she named “Sins” after completing her first mini serious for ABC named…yes you guessed it: “Sins”, which we used when vacationing in her house in south of France. So i have a special attachment to this brand and I’m exited to be visiting its headquarters in Monte Carlo.

My friend Jerome, who is married to one of the members of the Riva family, has arranged a special visit. Finding a parking spot in Monte Carlo in near to impossible, but that is why I have a Fiat 500, so you can literally park it anywhere…and so I do, between to motorcycles at the port, right in front of Riva. Walking through the famous “Tunnel’ where they keep their inventory of smaller speedboats, is truly fascinating! These boats are not called the Rolls Royce of the water for no reason, the design and handcraft work on these jewels is truly unprecedented and no one else comes close to it. Clearly, this comes at a cost…a very large cost! But hey…if you can afford it, it’s the one to buy! I can’t afford it, so no time wasted thinking about it. Outside, right by the water hanging from a crane, is the iconic Riva Aquarama Special, the same boat my dad used to have, in all its beauty!!! This legendary speedboat was introduced in 1962 and it’s classic design and style is still   fabulous today as it was when it was first introduced.

 

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Entrance to the Riva “Tunnel”

 

IMG_5521Riva’s famous “Tunnel” where they stock their boats



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The iconic Riva Aquarama Special

 

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Riva Aquariva getting serviced

 

After an hour of nostalgia and dreaming of what color I would choose should I be able to afford a Riva, it’s lunch time and I decide to go to an old Monaco classic restaurant Pulcinella (http://www.pulcinella.mc). This place has been around since 1979 and is a favorite among the Monegasques; through the years I remember having dinner here with my family, Roger Moore and then wife Luisa, with my beloved Shirley Bassey and many more. The food is ok, but the atmosphere is uniquely familiar and friendly…like having dinner at an Italian family’s home. Finally, it’s time to drive to Nice airport, drop off the little truffle (the Fiat 500 that is) and fly to Paris in time for dinner.

 

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Ristorante Pulcinella famous logo

 

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View of Monte Carlo from the road

 

This time around, I rented an apartment in Paris through Airbnb in the Montorgueil area, famous for it’s pedestrian only street lined with dozens of Brasseries, restaurants, markets and, oh yes, Boulangeries!!! After a pretty quick Uber ride form Chrales de Gaulles airport to the 10th arrondissement, we settle into our 17th century, two bedroom apartment and prepare to walk around our neighborhood for a place to dine. Rue Montorgueil is always bustling with people 24/7 and though getting an apartment in this location might be a little noisy; I absolutely love it and immediately feel the magic of the Parisian Cafe society. We decide to eat at the brasserie right across the street from my apartment: Café du Centre; a classic French Brasserie with all the usual suspect on the menu; I go for a green mixed salad to start, a Steak-Tartar aver Pommes Frites and a bottle of Rosé (between two people of course). We are sitting on the sidewalk in total bliss and just between the starter and the main course it starts poring cats and dogs like you’ve never seen before, all our food gets immediately soaked, our wine diluted and we just turned into wet chickens…absolutely FABULOUS!!!!! No one cared at all, we all just run into the small interior dinging room and practically sit on top of each other like a 10 pound sausage in a 5 pound bag and NO one cared, the staff brought out more wine for everyone and dinner continued without a hitch…just really damp.

 

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My Parisian hood

 

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Café du Centre

 

After dinner, it’s an absolute must to have a walk in the neighborhood to digest your meal and since we are 5 blocks away from there Louvre, that’s where we will do our digesting, walking down the Tuilleries with all the million of lights twinkling in the night that make this City of Lights absolutely unique and spectacular.


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The Ferris Wheel on the Tuileries

 

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The glass pyramid at the Louvre

 

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Palais du Louvre at night

 

It’s been a long day and I’m ready to retire in my charming little apartment; did I mention Paris is having a heat wave? Yes, it’s about 95″ at 1am and there is no AC in my apartment…welcome to Paris! It’s ok, I’m too tired to care; I place the large fan practically over me and it’s off to La La Land in a second.

Bonne nuit Paris…je t’aime!!!!

Off to the Land of the Gods for some crystal waters and more amazing food

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After going to bed last night, around 3AM our captain set sail to Greece so that by the time we all wake up for breakfast, we have arrived to our destination. It is a standard practice for yachts to travel during the night so guests don’t have to be bothered sitting around doing nothing while the boat is traveling on a long distance destination. Greece is truly a spectacular country and one of my favorite summer destinations; often called the birthplace of Western civilization, it consists of 2 mainland peninsulas and thousands of islands throughout the Aegean and Ionian seas, one more beautiful than the other. Turkey is it’s closest neighbor to the east and just 6-7 hours from it’s closest island. Our first stop is the island of Marathi, where we will have our first Greek meal! I loooove Greek food, it is so simple and delicious; their Greek salads are perfection and their basic ingredients like tomatoes, olive oil, oregano and especially fresh sea foods are second to none.

 

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The many, many islands between Turkey and Greece mainland

 

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Off the the land of Gods

 

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Leaving Turkey behind

 

Marathi is a tiny little island with something like 20 inhabitants, alongside 6 goats, 2 black cats and a chicken. Pantelis Marathi, the only restaurant on the island and a real treat for local fair and amazing seafood, fresh from the ocean; big group luncheons are a must in these areas and the atmosphere is loud and lots of fun. We start with a selection of appetizers including grilled octopus, Greek salads, hummus, mussels, eggplant and then their signature dish: Grilled lobster with tagliatelle. It’s a feast worthy of the gods and we certainly don’t shy away from stuffing our faces, not to mention, the many, many bottles of rosé that seem to be a must anywhere in Europe during the summer holidays. After lunch we are off to the island of Symi.

 

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Arriving at Pantelis Marathi Restaurant

 

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Nothing better than big groups for a summer luncheon

 

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Grilled octopus

 

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Classic Greek Salad

 

DSC00528The delicious medley of Mediterranean appetizers served in most restaurants in Greece


DSC00548The famous Lobster Tagliolini


Symi is known for its beaches and its colorful neoclassical houses that adorn the whole facade of the island. Here we walk around for a little shopping and stop at my favorite spice store where you can buy the best Greek spices such as oregano, wild sage, paprika and oh yes…sex tea (Some weird concoction that supposedly enhances your sexual experience…those horny Greeks!). Symi is really tiny, like most Greek islands, and you only need an hour to look around after which we take the small speed boat to go around the island looking for the most amazing natural beaches with the clearest blue waters you will ever see for a little water and sun action. By 4PM, it’s toy-time again: Sea-Bobs, Water-Boarding, jet skies and the whole lot. Let me tell you, unless you are 20 years old, after a few hours of this testosterone demonstration, you are completely exhausted and yours truly is ready for a siesta before dinner at the small port of Symi.

 

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The beautiful island of Symi

 

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More Symi

 

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And more Symi

 

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Stavros’ Spice shop

 

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All the many local spices at Stavros’s Spice Shop

 

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Paolo taking me back to the boat after a little shopping in Symi

 

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One of the stunning beaches in Symi only accessible by boat

 

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One of the many stunning natural beaches only accessible by boat

 

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Robert Kass channeling Bond…James Bond

 

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Raffi water-boarding at dusk

 

Around 8PM, Raphael and I decide to go to the port before the rest of the gang for a drink at the popular Harani Bar: when I say popular, I mean it’s the only place in Symi that has more than 3 tables and therefore, somewhat of a crowd, though most of them are tacky tourists with 21 flowers on their back, a fanny pack and a camera…my favorite! Even so, it’s a beautiful thing having a cocktail at this ancient sea village, surrounded by ancient buildings, under the stars at a stifling 95-Fahrenheit. One cocktail turns into 4 each and before you know it, we are crawling over to the other end of the port to join the rest at Ristorante la Vaporetta, the best Italian restaurant in Symi.

 

IMG_4907Symi’s happening scene: Bar Harani

The place is so charming and you get to sit right on the water with the twinkling lights of the port as a backdrop. After the best tomato and feta cheese I have ever had in my life, it’s once again, a culinary journey of Greek-Italian fusion dishes that are just beyond amazing. It is so hot tonight and I can’t wait to get back to the boat for a refreshing swim in the ocean and perhaps anther movie on the top deck with a bowl of Paolo’s deadly Truffle popcorn and more Rosé.


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Arriving at Ristorante La Vaporetta

 

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Ristorante La Vaporetta

 

la-vaporettaLove the menu with so many notes and corrections


11034065_1600734156871483_193423952_oWhy is he so unhappy and not the lobsters?


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Beautiful sail boat at the port of Symi

 

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Back home for a late night swim

 

It’a really hard not to think of all of us as a bunch of alcoholics, but when I tell you that there is not much you can do on board of a boat but eat and drink, I ain’t kidding!!!! Another popular activity on board with this group is karaoke! Not the kind you have in mind, more like blasting rap music through the boat system in the middle of the ocean while lip sinking along and trying to move and shake as true rappers. Nothing better than a bunch of Europeans whitees on a yacht trying to be rappers from the hood.

I swear, another week of this and I’ll look like “Jabba the Hutt” and will not fit in any of my clothes…Luckily, it’s Greece and I can always just throw a Pareo around my waist and call it a day. Tonight, after bedtime, we will be sailing through the night back to Turkey for our last day in the South before Raffi and I head over to St. Tropez in the South of France.

Have I mentioned how blessed I am? I am always truly grateful and humbled! Peace out.

Birthday week in Switzerland

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After a wild week in London, I am looking forward to a mellow and grounded week in beautiful Switzerland with family and friends and much needed rest. I’ve written several pieces on my hometown Lugano, but it never seems to get old and I find that there is always more to share with you about this amazing small city bordering Italy. I arrive in Zurich airport, and this time, I decided to take the train down to Lugano instead of a rental car or small plane; the train leaves directly from the airport so it’s an easy operation all together. I’m happily surprised to see that the first class wagons are now panoramic, an option that did not exist when I was living in Switzerland. Taking the train through the Swiss countryside and mountains is already an amazing treat in itself, but having a panoramic ceiling, well…what more can you ask for. Even better is the fact that there are only two of us in the entire car. After a 3 hours train ride, I arrive in Lugano to find my brother and his 3 kids along with my BFF Fabrizio, with whom I’ve been friends since we were 3 years old, waiting for me at the station…right there and then you understand the feeling of love and the true meaning of coming home, no matter how many years it’s been since I’ve left Switzerland.

 

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Arrivals at Zurich airport

 

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Swiss trains first class panoramic car

 

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Amazing view from my seat

 

Since this will be a quiet week of relaxation and family time, I won’t be doing a 1-day review post, but rather I’ll talk about the highlights of my stay in Lugano.

I always love walking around town in Lugano, not only it is such a beautiful city, but it carries so many amazing memories from my youth: like Gabbani Market (www.gabbani.com), an iconic gourmet market that has been in Lugano since 1937 and also the place where I had my first summer job when I was 15 years old so that I can earn enough money to buy myself a moped!!! I worked outside under the arcade selling fresh berries (don’t even…), there, the first seeds of what would become a fearlessly independent entrepreneur, were planted. The food at Gabbani is beyond amazing and the presentation is just fabulous! Walking through the streets of Lugano is a real treat; you will find such amazing buildings and churches from way back in the 15″ century. One thing about Switzerland is that they take good care of their national patrimony and all historical buildings look as they were built just a few year ago.

 

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The iconic Gabbani market in Lugano where I had my first summer job at 15 years of age


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The famous salami arches at Gabbani

 

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Gabbani’s amazing sandwiches

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Santa Maria degli Angeli, Lugano’s oldest church and monastery, circa 1499

 

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Santa Maria degli Angeli, interior

 

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The last supper at Santa Maria degli Angeli

 

IMG_4229The stunning alfresco “Passione e Crocefissione” by Bernardino Luini.



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The newly renovated Palace Hotel and residence

 

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Lake view

 

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Another amazing lake view

 

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The oldest building in Lugano, circa 16′ century

 

I loved having lunch with one of my oldest friends: Stefano Pesce; an art dealer and representative of one of the biggest Salvador Dali collections in Europe. He takes me to one of my favorite Grottos on Lake Lugano: Grotto Pojana (www.grottopojana.com). As I already explained in previous posts, a Grotto is a uniquely Swiss Italian phenomenon; it’s basically an old mountain home, turned into an open air restaurant by the family living in it only during the summer season, after which, it turns back into the restaurateur’s home fro the winter. The owners of the Grotto make all their foods in house and all specialize in typical Ticino specialties like: Polenta, Risotto, Brasato, local cheeses and cold cuts, horse meat, pork ribs to name a few. Anyway, back to Gotto Pojana! This place has been around forever and the food is still amazing to date! I had the Cipolla Tonnata, which is a take from the Vitello Tonnato (one of my favorite dishes in the entire world…); basically a grilled sweet onion with a Tuna, anchovy, lemon and fresh mayo sauce. As an entree I had the Persico filet (a local sweet lake fish) with Risotto alla Parmigiana…delish! Stefano had the fried lake baby fish with French fries, also amazing and typical of this area. A bottle of their own Merlot wine and there goes a perfect lunch by the lake before going to visit the foundry that exclusively casts all of Salvador Dali’s sculptures, of which Stefano is the representative.

 

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My childhood friend Stefano Pesce and myself at Grotto Pojana

 

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Grotto Pojana’s own Merlot wine

 

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Pesce persico del lago with risotto alla parmigiana

 

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“Pesciolini del lago fritti” with french fries

 

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Grotto Pojana’s Menu

 

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View of the lake in front of Grotto Pojana

 

The whole bronze casting process is really astonishing and watching each piece going through all the different stages and become the final shiny bronze sculpture it is meant to be, is something really special. It reminds me of my art school days when I was doing sculptures and castings in plaster. You could see some of Dali’s famous pieces, like the stretched out clock and his Knight on a horse fighting the dragon…amazing!

One of the highlights of my stay was coming home from a luncheon and being surprised by my 3 nephews with a small chocolate tart with candles for my birthday. The best part was the 35 year old candles…the fact that they think I’m 35 is in itself, the best birthday present EVER!!!! There is nothing like family my dear Possums and that is one of the main reasons I come to Lugano so often, so I can see my brother, and watch his kids grow up and be a small part of it…and because they think I’m 35!!!!!

 

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Dali’s bronze sculpture

 

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Dali’s famous Knight fighting the dragon

 

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Two stunning bronze heads that I sooooo wanted to steal!!!!

 

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One of the many stages of bronze casting

 

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Dali’s famous stretched clock

 

Another Grotto worth mentioning is Grotto del Pep (www.grottodelpep.ch); once again, we’ve been going here for many years, so Jonathan, my youngest brother, decided this would be a good place to celebrate my Swiss version of my birthday with a few friends and family. They are known for their pork ribs and the Polenta with trifled mushrooms…to die for!!!!! The meats are BBQ’d outside on the grill for all to see; sitting outside on the signature granite tables and benches on a warm summer evening is a real treat. The drink of choice in Grottos in this region is “Merlot with Gazzosa”, which is red wine with a lemon soft drink that they mix together and drink out of these unique porcelain cups that look like tea cups without the handle. After eating half a pig, 10 lb. of polenta and mushrooms, 5 bottles of Merlot and Gazzosa, and having such an amazing time with my friends and family, I am ready to end the Swiss part of my “Global Birthday Celebration” and prepare for the upcoming Turkish Birthday week…too much? Hey…until you can still stand up and celebrate the fact that you are still alive…I say go for it!!!!!

 

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My own little dynasty celebrating my 35th birthday…ish

 

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Entrance to Grotto del Pep

 

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Outdoor terrace

 

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Outdoor grill

 

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Specialty dish: Polenta with trifled mushrooms

 

IMG_4086Signature dish: Costine di Maiale con Patate


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The beautiful and serene view from my bedroom at dusk…is he watching me?