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

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Today I am going to Cuernavaca to surprise my mom at tomorrow’s Mother’s Day luncheon at Las Mañanitas ( www.lasmananitas.com.mx ), she has no idea I’m in Mexico and no clue I’ll be spending Mother’s day with her. My brother is picking me up at Eugenio’s home for the 1:30 minute drive to the “City of eternal spring”; yes, that’s what they call Cuernavaca. I’m not quite sure why, since every time I go to this city, it is scorching hot, humid as hell and most definitely not what comes to mind when I think of spring! In order to succeed in my surprise, I can’t stay at my mother’s home, where I usually lodge; instead, I am spending the night at a local hotel in the center of the city that I found on the internet that looks really adorable and suitable for my 48 visit: Las Casas B + B Hotel (www.lascasasbb.com). It’s a converted private villa with a dozen rooms, 2 pools and what appears to be a “happening” restaurant and bar scene; maybe I can make a few new local friends.

Once I arrive at my destination I am pleased to discover that today is a lovely Spring day in Cuernavaca, clocking in at a mild 102 degrees, with a very comfortable 100% humidity…just screams Spring, doesn’t it? Being the world traveler that I am, I knew what weather I was walking into so I made sure to pick a hotel with AC in the bedrooms…don’t laugh; a lot of them don’t have it in these areas; you got to do your homework possums! The Hotel looks lovely; they did such a good job decorating it in a simple, yet chic colonial style. No surprise there…turns out the owners are a gay couple from NYC!!! I make a dash to my AC room and out of the elements to slip into a bathing suit and spend the rest of the afternoon poached in the swimming pool like a hippo at the Serengeti. There is nothing else one can do with this kind of heat…at least not this “Gringo”. Later in the evening one can venture out in the town for some drinks and snacks and a tour of the beautiful Palacio de Cortes and the charming center of town, with it’s open markets, cafes and Mariachis everywhere.

 

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Entrence to Las Casas B + B Hotel

 

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Lobby

 

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Pool area

 

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Another pool area

 

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Kass relaxing

 

By 8pm I’m ready for a little excursion around town; the heat has subsided a little and the world comes out to celebrate anything they can think about. My hotel is literally 1 block away from the center square where the impressive Cortes’s Palace holds reign in all its glory. The Palace of Cortés in Cuernavaca is, at almost 500 years old; the oldest conserved colonial era civil structure in the continental Americas. The famous conquistador’s former residence is now a history museum with murals by Diego Rivera and the town’s center where all the locals hang out in the evenings, eating and drinking and listening to Mariachis.

After walking around for a few hours, I am famished and I think I’ll be checking out the “Happening” scene at my hotel’s restaurant and bar. The place is packed with a totally different crowd then from the outside walls; here the clientele is quite chic and obviously well off financially. I ask for a table for 1 and I’m told they are fully booked…wrong answer! 3 tantrums and 1 meltdown later, I get a lovely table by the pool and complimentary tequila on the rocks…SNAP!

The food is a modern interpretation of Mexican classic dishes and quite good, though I’m definitely not blown away. The crowd is very trendy and the place definitely has a great energy; I love the old black & white movies screened on the side of the building…nice touch! Having dinner with yourself has its limits, so after an hour of eating and drinking alone and NOT meeting anyone…I’m off to my freezing cold room for a good night sleep so I can be ready for tomorrow’s Mother’s day extravaganza.

 

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Restaurant is happening

 

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Restaurant

 

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Entrance at night


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Entrance

 

IMG_9122Lively alleys in the center of town



IMG_9128Palacio de Cortes

 

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Statue of Cortes

 

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Lively scene

 

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Restaurant filled streets

 

My morning starts with the most amazing interpretation of a Lox & Bagel I have seen in this country; such a beautiful presentation. The heat is starting to rise so I spend the next few hours back in the pool until it’s time to get dressed for the 3PM Mother’s day lunch (they eat lunch very late in Mexico). I was going to wear a suit for the occasion, but I will have to re-think my outfit due to the 100-degree weather….perhaps I’ll just go in my Speedos. I am pleased to learn that Uber service has started in Cuernavaca 3 weeks ago, so I go to my favorite App and low and behold, a white car, the size of a truffle, arrives with the most charming and kind driver I have ever experienced in Mexico. A very welcomed addition to this country if you have any idea how awful the Taxi drivers are in Mexico and how they rip you off as soon as they smell “foreigner” or Gringo.


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Just though this was pretty

 

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My very well presented Lox & Bagel dish at Las Casas B + B Hotel

 

I finally arrive at the famous Las Mañanitas, a favorite of my family for over 30 years. This Relais & Chateaux Property is one of Mexico’s best hotels and restaurants, not to mention the most amazing tropical garden I have ever seen, complete with flamingos, peacocks and other tropical birds roaming around freely in all their beauty. My mom and bother, along with a few friends, are already seated at the table, so I go around my mom, lean in and whisper in her ear: “Excuse me Ma’am, can I join you for lunch?” My mom turned around and practically jumped off her seat with surprise; for a moment there I thought she would have a heart attack!!! Note to myself: probably not a good idea surprising your 82-year-old mom in the future. Shock is followed by tears, hugs and kisses…I would say the surprise is a big success (also thanks to my brother who helped me arrange the whole thing). Lunch is amazing, as usual and goes on for hours, as they do in this country; no wonder you need a siesta after eating and drinking for 4 hours! After lunch we go back to my mom’s home and spend the rest of the day catching up and enjoying some well-deserved family time.
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Exterior of Las Mañanitas


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The stunning outdoor dining area at Las Mañanitas

 

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The tropical birds roaming around the property at Las Mañanitas

 

IMG_9148 My delicious Chile Relleno

 

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A very loud Flamingo visiting the dining area

 

I’m feeling very good about this trip and the successful Mother’s day surprise! Thank you so much to my darling brother David and my Mexican brother Eugenio Lopez for a wonderful stay in one of my favorite countries in the word. Tomorrow is back to LA and back to work…I feel so blessed!!!!

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.

I love Montreal!

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We are back in Montreal for a few day of the usual excess. The weather is definitely better then Mont Tremblant at a crisp 8 degrees below zero; sure glad I bought my long johns and layers and layers of cashmere! Our “Host with the most” Luc Cartier has planned an array of activities for us and here are some of the highlights: On our first night, our dear, dear friend David Cooley from LA, was kind enough to lend us his stunning apartment in the old town of Montreal, where we cooked up an amazing “Welcome to Canada” dinner for a dozen of our Canadian and LA friends; the best part of this was spending all day with the whole gang shopping at some of Montreal’s best food markets, like the charming Marché Atwater.

Atwater Market, opened in 1933, is a farmers’ market located in the Little Burgundy area of Montreal. The Art deco’s building interior market is home to many butchers, bakeries and restaurants, the outside market has many farmers stalls which sell both local and imported produce, as well as many cheese stores, wine stores and fish stores. We’re all like a pack of wild dogs going from stall to stall buying up everything in site as if we haven’t eaten for a month. If anything we are contributing to the local economy, not to mention…our waistline!

 

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Marché Atwater’s Art Deco building

 

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The beautiful displays art the market

 

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Amazing vegetable displays

 

At night yours truly, with the help of sweet Chad, cooked enough food to feed 20 people, though we are only 12. Another unexpected surprise on this trip is the arrival of one of my oldest and dearest friends from NYC who decided to join me for the weekend: Scott Currie. Scoot is probably the funniest person I have ever met and I don’t mean funny…I mean hilarious, stomach cramps, tears and convolutions type funny! Needless to say he is the life of the dinner and I can’t get enough watching my Canadian friends rolling on the floor crying in pain. The eating and drinking go on till the wee hours of the morning until we finally crawl back to our respective apartments for a good night sleep.

 

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Martin Beaurivage with a hotel dolly full of groceries

 

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Unloading

 

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Chef Kass mis-en-place

 

The following day Scott and I explore the streets of old Montreal; it’s his first time here and leave it up to him to find the most bizarre selection of museum to visit, such as the Agatha Christy museum, where you can aw in amazement at such things as her typewriter and a hat collection. After a day of strange exhibits, a lovely lunch at Bistro Modavie on Rue Saint Paul (www.modavie.com), sightseeing and listening to Scott complaining about the streets and sidewalks in Montreal not being clear of the snow thus creating all sorts of hazards; we all get ready to meet at one of the best restaurants in the city…are you ready? The Grinder Restaurant (www.restaurantgrinder.ca) !!!

 

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Beautiful Old Montreal

 

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Yup…Horse and coach

 

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Old Montreal


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Old Montreal

 

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Old Montreal

 

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The lovely Marché Bonsecours

 

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Our lunch stop: Bistro Modavie

 

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Interior

 

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Scott Currie posing with Agatha Christy prop

 

Yes, Grinder, like the gay sex app that a Chinese company recently purchased; if you don’t know what I’m talking about…look it up! I guess only in Canada you can get away with naming your restaurant Grinder! Besides the obvious, the restaurant turns out to be really great; full of life, gorgeous young people, great decor and decent food and drinks. The waiters are flirty and right up my alley!

 

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Grinder Restaurant

 

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Grinder’s window

 

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Grinder’s Interior

 

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My Steak Tartare

 

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Martin & Shelly Bearivage and Chad Waterhouse

 

After dinner it’s off to “Montreal en Lumière”, a yearly festival in the freezing weather where everyone comes to the center for lots and lots of drinking and carnival style activities. People are flying over your head on cables from one building to the other, there are Ferris wheels and DJ’s spinning away to the hundred of thousands of drunken Canadians on a rampage, dancing and vomiting in every corner. We last all of 15 minutes before we make our way through the very crowded streets to our dear friend Annie Delisle’s infamous Club “Le 281” for a bottle of vodka and some eye candy. The rest of the evening is not PG 14 and will remain secret, let’s just say, we had the best time as one can only have in Montreal!

 

 

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“Montreal en Lumière” Festival

 

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Crazy people dangling form a wire over our heads

 

IMG_8509“Montreal en Lumière”


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Massive outdoor dance space with DJ spinning amazing music

IMG_8512Funny plastic enclosures

 

The following day Luc, Martin and I have our farewell brunch at the hip Richmond Restaurant and Market (www.lerichmond.com) and one of my favorite eateries in Montreal. Half the place is a fine gourmet market with specialties form all over the world and the other is a super hip, yet casual bar and dining room all inside a stunning refurbished industrial warehouse. After the best duck comfit grilled cheese sandwich in the world, it’s time for hugs and kisses and tears because this little piggy is off to LA and back to work.

 

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The Richmond Restaurant and market

 

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The Richmond Restaurant and market


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Bar and dining room

 

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The Richmond restaurant

 

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Mr. Luc Cartier and Martin Beaurivage at The Richmond

 

I’ve been coming to Montreal now for over 2 years after my friend David Cooley kept telling me for years how much fun this city was and how I should really make an effort to visit. Well…since the first time I came to this city, now you can’t keep me away! It’s not just the fun places and the “everything goes” attitude, but the people of Montreal are really the nicest people I know, they are delightfully uncomplicated, real to the core, sans all the LA hang-ups and attitude and just a joy to be with! I made some very special friends here that quickly have become some of my closets and dearest and I always look forward to coming back to this crazy city!

A quick stop in Cincinnati , Ohio on my way to Montreal

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Not even a few days after returning to my home in LA, I’m off to Montreal to join my Canadian friends for a little fun in the city and 3 days in Mont Tremblant skiing. On the way there, I decide to stop over in Ohio, more specifically, Cincinnati to visit my dear friend Logan Fenton, whom I haven’t seen in over 4 years! He has been very busy since then, getting married and giving birth to a baby girl (he didn’t literally give birth to the baby girl…just saying!). Logan lives in Winchester, Ohio; which is about 1 hour outside Cincinnati and smack inside Amish country. Since watching the movie “The witness” in the 80′, I’ve been obsessed with the Amish and their culture. I’ve already been in Winchester years ago with Logan and absolutely loved the experience, so I am more than exited to re-visit this part of the world for 48 hours and buy some of those incredible “Apple Fritters” that the Amish sell on the side of the main road in their gas lit, ridiculously charming Bakeries, where you really get to connect with them on their turf.

 

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Mr. Cheeseball with his new wheels

 

After a lovely flight on a small and very empty Bombardier aircraft; I land in Cincinnati. Once on the curb, I see Logan driving up to me in a less-than-subtle, brand new, shiny, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. He is sooooo showing off…it’s not even funny; he has a grin from one side of his face to the other and I can’t help but burst into laughter. You can tell he’s been back in Ohio for too long! The ride back to his place is filled with laughter; new tales, old tales and a whole bunch of sarcastic and abusive back and forth (something we love doing to each other since the day we met). Logan booked me a room at the famed Murphin Ridge Inn, in Amish country. This charming Bed & Breakfast, situated on a 142 pristine acres in the hills of Adams County, boasts a main building with Laura Ashley style rooms and restaurant and 10 private wood cabins, built by the Amish, with an indoor Jacuzzi and your own porch with rocking chair…right out of a fairytale book! This kind of environment sure takes your mind away from any toxic thoughts you might bring along with you from back home. Best part…no TV around here! After settling in, we go back to Logan’s home to meet his wife and his adorable baby girl, before heading off to dinner at “Joe’s Crab Shack” …when in Rome!

 

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Arriving at the Murphin Ridge Inn

 

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Old barns at the Murphin Ridge Inn

 

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The adorable wood cabins at Murphin Ridge Inn

 

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Interior



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How fabulous is this?

 

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More interior

 

Ohio, like most cities between LA and NYC, is definitely a different place all together then what I am used too. The people are very polite, though they tend to stare at you like you’re from out of space. I know I look and sound a little different…some people even say I’m eccentric; anyway, they tend to stare a lot and they are probably having a field day trying to work out what in the world they are looking at!!! Everyone in the restaurant is fat…included yours truly! I guess “gluten free” and “Zumba” haven’t arrived yet in this neck of the woods. I need an emergency cocktail to adjust to my environment…a bloody Mary will do! This eatery is all about Crabs, so Crab it is! Before you now it, a garden tin bucket arrives filled with massive crab legs and other stuff; the waitress hands me over a bib and highly suggests I wear it…done! The crabs are good, especially after dipping them in a pound of butter, which comes with the critters. This place is not for the dainty eaters, so don’t mind manners, just come on down with a healthy appetite because you will need it (and a change of clothes for after dinner might come handy too).

After dinner we drop off the family and Logan takes me to some of his favorite local dived for a few nightcaps and catching up before turning in for some much needed sleep. It’s time to wake up; it’s a beautiful day in Winchester and we are going to explore Amish country today and visit Logan’s family farm. It’s hard to leave my little cottage…I am sooo comfortable in my little cottage, it’s hard to get up and leave this adorable place. But I’m ready to try me some local breakfast: Foggy Bottom Pancakes, Cream Biscuits with Sausage Gravy, and Farmer’s Scramble. Granola made at the inn, freshly squeezed orange juice, and fresh fruit!!! Now that’s what I call a breakfast of champs!

 


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Arriving at Joe’s Crab Shack

 

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Apparently Jaws ended up here…

 

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Our very large Bloody Mary’s

 

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Overwhelmed…

 

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Beautiful landscape of Cincinnati at dusk

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Nightcapping at an old dive in Cincinnati

 

Logan picks me up and is radiating with pride and excitement to show me his farm that has been in the family for generations. It’s hundreds of acres of land with mixed use: from cattle to timber and tobacco to dairy; it’s a massive endeavor! Along the way he let’s me drive a tractor, play with the new baby goats, pretend to be macho cutting trees down with a chain saw…you know, the usual stuff!!! All right, I’m craving Amish Apple Fritters; it’s time to visit Amish country. The landscape in this part of the world is truly stunning; green rolling hills as far as your eye can see filled with charming barns and wind mills and small towns, one more charming than the other. You can definitely see the German influence that arrived in these parts back in the 17th century, when members of this conservative Christian faith escaped persecution in Europe for their Anabaptist beliefs and settled in this rich land.

 

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Logan’s new wheels…Subtle!

 

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Oh yeah baby…does “Butch” come to mind?

 

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If it didn’t before…it must now! Kass is trucking…

 

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I love Logan’s mom’s goats

 

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Baby goats

 

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Tobacco fileds

 

As you might know, the Amish don’t use electricity or any electronic device; it’s back to basics and totally connected to nature. Homes and businesses are lilt by gaslight and art and crafts flourish in this community. Visiting their markets and furniture shops is a real treat and if you spend enough time you can find some really great products to bring back with you. We stop at one of the many road side markets and feast on amazing sandwiches made with all their home-made products: form the meats to the breads to the greens…you get the drill! After that it’s apple fritter time, the most delicious local specialty you will ever taste. You can’t help but stock up on their jams and cookies and other goodie to take back to your friends.

 

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Pristine Amish fields

 

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Amish couple…not to happy to be photographed.

 

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Hilarious!

 

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Amish cemetery

 

We also stop by a massive barn, tuned into a store of used items from the region, it’s a bonanza of old Americana, from old stoves to furniture, to old fridges and unique items, such as a “Stuffed Beaver”; if you’re a “Picker”, you ain’t getting out of here!!! I could spend the day here, but hélas, it’s time to go back home for an early meal with Logan and his wife before leaving for Montreal in the morning. Not to mention, I need a few photo-ops on the way back with an Amish “Buggy” and definitely by the town’s sign at ‘Seaman” Town…Can’t make this stuff up! What an amazing visit this was: “Thank you Logan for being such a great host”

 

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Old Americana galore

 

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Don’t quite know what this is…but it is stuffed!

 

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Amazing old signs

 

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1930′ stoves

 

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So much to see…overwhelming!

 

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Hand made Choo Choo train

 

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No words needed…

I found Paradise!

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Good morning Africa!!! It’s time to pack again; my friend Tina is coming back from Switzerland and meeting me at my hotel for lunch, after which we will drive to the north side of Zanzibar at a beach named Kendwa Beach, known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world…they say. I’m going to miss this hotel; one last breakfast on the terrace and I’ll start packing. By now the whole staff of the hotel knows me by first name and I don’t even have to ask for anything…it’s already on its way! I will say once again how impresses I am with the friendliness and cheerfulness of the people of Tanzania. On-time as a Swiss Coo coo clock, Tina arrives at noon at the Park Hyatt, and after a quick visit around the property and lunch, a few Uuhh’s and ahhhhh’s and a few “Jambo” jokes, we jump into the waiting van with driver that Tina has arranged for us to get to our destination. It’s a 2-hour drive through a very congested and chaotic city, then through the colorful and chaotic suburbs, into the jungle and finally…PARADISE!!!! The moment you arrive at the hotel and look toward the beach, you are blinded by the colors in the horizon: the bluest waters I have ever seen and the whites sands I have ever seen. It’s hard to focus on the check-in process, all I can think is getting down to the water.

 

IMG_8216 (1)The entrance of the Gold Hotel Resort


IMG_8199My first look at Kendwa Beach…I’m in shock at the beauty of it all!


IMG_8190The water is a velvety Aquamarine color and the skies appear to be violet

 

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The pristine, white sand beaches

 

We were supposed to stay at this fabulous, brand new, super chic, 5 star resort that I arranged months ago from the US, but just a few days ago, I got an email form the Toko Toko Resort informing me that regrettably, the hotel burned down the night before and that all reservations, pre-paid I will add, are now cancelled…I will say this is a first for me! So now I’m in Tanzania, 2 days away from going to my fab resort and the damn thing just burned to the ground…that’s 3rd world for you! I call Tina in a panic, letting her know that we will end up sleeping on a beach in a tent and will be eaten by crawly critters if I don’t find a quick solution to our new problem. Burt no worries, Tina makes a few phone calls to her friends and before you know it, we are all set to stay in another resort named Kendwa Rocks…phew!!!

Since I didn’t arrange this place and didn’t have a chance to investigate it, as I always do with all hotels I stay in before choosing them; I’m a little concerned…but what the hell, can’t be that bad! The moment we arrive at the gates of this resort, I know we have a problem; it took just a few short minutes to realize that the hotel that Tina’s friend organized for us is, by far, the most horrific, hippy infested, filthy, pot smoking, drunken college kids infested, mosquito infested, unsanitary collection of decrepit wood shacks they call “Bungalows”, that I have ever set foot in. I looked at Tina and simply said: “Are you kidding me????? I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than stay in this dump”. We lasted a few hours, just enough time to get on my computer (Thank God for WIFI) and find a 5 star resort just next door to the “Crack House” with 1 room left at $400 a night…”I’ll take it!!!!”

 

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Our beach resort from the ocean

 

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Tina found her Cabana and isn’t moving.

 

IMG_8157The charming Cabanas at Gold Resort


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Our amazing beach

 

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More beach shoots

 

So before you know it, we are checking in, once again, at Gold Zanzibar Beach House & Spa; literally a spit away from where we were. I wouldn’t go as far as calling this place a “Real” 5 star hotel, in fact, it’s one of those “all inclusive”, high-end resorts that I avoid like the plague; but next to where we just escaped from, this is a 10 star in my book! It’s also full of Italians, which is always a good sign (they know their shit when it comes to travel). I’m dying to get my ass on that beach and into that water; after dropping off our luggage in our Alibaba-ish beachfront room, I am running to the water “á la” Bo Dereck, “sans” the “10” body or decorative beads. The pristine white sand is blinding to the eye from the reflection of the sun, but feels so soft and cool to the touch. The jaw dropping moment is reaching the intense aquamarine color, velvety water that changes color with the sun and the surreal purple sky; it’s like being on the set of a Sci-fi movie. The color and texture combination is just out if this world, not to mention, a welcome alternative to the sweltering heat and humidity.

 

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Meet my new little friend…

 

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Arabesque detail from the Beach Bar

 

After a good 2 hour session in the ocean it’s time for some sun action! On the way back to my chaise lounge, I run into 2 very young Maasai warriors patrolling the beach, with their beautiful red robes, super cool “Faux” Ray Ban’s and of course…the stick. This tribe is truly remarkable, such amazing history and tradition; not to mention, they can kill a lion with their bare hands…That is more than enough for me to be impressed!

 

IMG_8215 (1)The amazing young Maasai warriors patrolling the beaches

 

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Dusk at Kendwa Beach

 

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Dusk

 

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Taking it all in

 

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Beyond…

 

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Sunset on Kendwa Beach

 

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Palapa detail at our resort

 

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The beautiful “Palapa” dining room at Gold Resort

 

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Kendwa Rocks Hotel beach Bar

 

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Another Bar on the beach

 

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Not bad for this remote area: Papaya Martini

 

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Arriving at Langilangi Beach Restaurant

 

IMG_8247Langilangi Menu…check out the bottom quote. How eloquent.


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The charming interior of Langilangi

 

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More interior

 

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View of the beach and ocean from our table

 

IMG_8257Just another terrible photo of me and Tina


IMG_8249The Langilangi restaurant terrace


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An street market open at 11pm, with a 5 year old boy angrily pointing his finger at me and telling me not to photograph him.

 

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Back to our Gold Resort

 

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My super kitch Alibaba tented bed

 

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Well protected from the local venomous, flying critters.


IMG_8159 (1)Morning walk at Kendwa Rocks Hotel…AKA “The crack house”

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Lovely detail

 

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And that amazing beach again…


IMG_8239Fishermen’s boats


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Fishermen’s boats

 

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Tina and myself ready for our foot massage.

 

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No filter…just paradise!

 

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My last moments in paradise

 

The rest of my time in Kendwa Beach is really all the same kind of bliss: beach, lunch, beach, massage, sunset, dinner, bed. Repeat: beach, lunch, beach, massage, sunset, dinner, bed! The real beauty of this place cannot be described, it can only be experienced; it’s off the beaten path and perhaps lacks some of the western necessities that some travelers might expect; for me, however, it is heaven; it’s beautiful in every way, it’s peaceful and it’s surprising. I’m so far from my comfort zone and yet so comfortable in such a deep level; I feel so connected to nature when I’m here and so free. I know this all sound a bit wacky and self-indulgent, but if you ever get the chance to visit this country, you will know what I mean. They have so little and yet they seem so richer than most people back home…food for thoughts! I am humbled by this experience and I leave a better person. This, my friends, is the reason I travel!!!

I’ll be leaving for Switzerland in a few days and then back to LA to start working on hotel #2. I will re-connect with you then! In the meantime, I send you all positive energy from “Mother Africa”.

“Assante” Africa…I will be back!

 

 

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

 

IMG_8109Market activities


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!

First day in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam

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Good morning Africa! I feel like a 12 year old on his first trip abroad…so weird for such a seasoned traveler! I guess Africa is so far out of my comfort zone that my curiosity is at it’s peak. We start the day with some shopping at the local arts & crafts market just a few streets down form our hotel. Tina’s guide and adopted son Ferous, is a darling 23-year-old local boy that takes care of Tina and the Swiss Airline crew when they come to town. He provides protection, guidance and access to amazing sites of the beaten pass and most definitely not on the tourist’s guides.


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Arriving at the local arts & crafts market

 

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Jewelry made with used Nespresso pods…talk about imagination!

 

The market if full of incredible finds; one worth mentioning is the used Nespresso pods collection they collect from hotels and then turn into original jewelry; I say A for effort! After buying 800 Pareos in every possible color combination of the rainbow we go back to the hotel where Ferous’s buddy is picking us up with the local, best and fastest form of transportation…The Tul Tuk. This deathly machine is a converted moped with a cabin attached in the back that barely fits 3 people…thank god I lost 3 pounds. These little maniacal vehicles cut trough the insane traffic in the streets of Dar es Salaam with such efficiency, cutting hours of your journey; it goes without saying that such a perk included a pretty good probability of dying in a car crash at any moment…there drivers are literally INSANE in this place!

 

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Tina posing on the Tuk Tuk

 

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In the back of the Tuk Tuk with Tina and Ferous

 

Tina has arranged an amazing adventure today, we are going to a deserted, pristine, white sand island off the coast of Dar es Salaam where a few local chefs and a few fishermen are awaiting our arrival so they can catch out choice of sea food and then cook it on site at a make shift kitchen and dining hut. After the terrifying ride to the beach, I notice a little unsettling detail…there is no water on the beach! Trying not to look too alarmed, I ask our guide how are we supposed to catch our boat to the island if there is no water on the beach for a boat to float on. He laughs and explains that it is now low tide so we have to walk on the muddy, critter infested sea floor for miles until we reach the water and our boat. Suddenly the dreamy island plan is beginning to look a bit like a nightmare; let me tell you, walking a mile on a slippery, muddy, pothole infested sea floor with little critters crawling around is NOT my idea of a good time! You can barely see the boat; it’s so far away from shore. I guess I have no choice but to suck it up and be a man and show these highly amused locals that this Swiss turist can raise to the challenge. After a 45 minutes dreadful walk holding on to Farous for dear life and getting covered head to toe in dirty mud, I finally reach our boat, if you can call it that; it’s more like a raft with a propeller.

 

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Waiting for our boat…if you can call it that.

 

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Walking on the muddy ocean floor in low tide to our boat

 

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Ferous on sailor duties

 

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Tina and Ferous


IMG_7823Fisherman catching our lunch

 

But all is about to change, as we get closer to this jewel of an island with the most beautiful fauna and sparkling white beaches appearing on the horizon. Once there the local fisherman ask us what we want to eat and gives us a sort of daily menu options that might be available in the water…meaning, you can pick what you want to eat from the menu variety of sea food available in the area, but there are no guarantees they will find your choice when they go out fishing for it. Sure enough my lobster choice doesn’t happen, none to be found today. So I go for my second choice: King fish, a tasty local white fish that seems to be plentiful today. You can literally see your fisherman go out in the ocean and look for your lunch…that’s a whole new definition to the word “Fresh fish”. While the men do their job, Tina, Farous and I relax on the beach under a Palapa, sipping local beer and swim in the spectacular turquoise water sof Tanzania. Lunch is finally caught and on it’s way to the wood-burning grill on the beach. Amazingly, the only other item they serve besides fish, is French Fries…How about that!!! I don’t know what they put on the fish and how they fry these potatoes, but my meal was delicious and probably the freshest fish I have ever eaten…right out of the water. Don’t bother asking for silverware, there are no such frivolities here; its hands and fingers kiddos…I knew I should have stocked up on those Swiss Airlines packaged wet naps on the way out of the aircraft!

 

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View of the pristine white sand island

 

IMG_7839Arriving at the beautiful island of Mbudya


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Today’s dining room

 

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Detail on the beautiful African Palapas

 

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The island’s kitchen…and fat chefs!


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Catch of the day with French fries

 

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No silverware here…just good old fingers action

 

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Africa’s mighty Bao Bao tree

 

IMG_7930Amazing photo of me and the mighty Bao Bao African tree

 

After lunch we take a walk around the island to visit the stunning beaches and the African mighty Bao Bao trees; and here I though it was a Disney fictional creation for their theme parks! These trees are truly amazing and their trunks surface look like elegant skin. Photo ops…check! It’s nappy time on the beach with a cold Tanzanian Brew and sun bathing for the rest of the day. It’s almost sad leaving this little paradise we called our own today, but we must get back to the hotel in Oyster Bay and get ready for a dinner with Tina’s Swiss Airlines colleagues tonight.

 

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Exhausted and in desperate need of a siesta

 

Tina is taking us to her friends Samantar’s beautiful Hotel-Restaurant, The Mediterraneo on the Indian Ocean (www.mediterraneotanzania.com); this sprawling property is a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean and Trader Vick’s, complete with white cotton draping everywhere, converted African wood boats into seating, glowing lantern and the most beautiful dining room right on the water front under a full moon. Turns out the owner is from Italian and African parents, so the menu is predominately Italian food…fine with me…and they have silverware! I order the black squid tagliatelle with lobster and they are just excellent. I just love those Italians; no matter where you put them in the world they will cook up an amazing meal. The evening takes a turn when the Limoncello and the Grappa suddenly appears out of nowhere, compliments of the owner. It’s quite hilarious watching the very conservative, polite and professional Swiss crew letting their hair down…sort of speak. I even have the chance to meet my first Masai warrior; who are generally hired by large hotels to do their security, which in itself is quite amusing, considering their only weapon is a simple wood stick! But make no mistake; these thin, tall African warriors, wrapped in colorful fabric, can apparently kill a lion with their bare hands!!!



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The beautifully done bar at Mediterraneo Hotel and restaurant

 

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Lounge at Mediterraneo

 

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The Swiss Airlines crew and me

 

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The delicious squid tagliatelle with lobster at Mediterraneo

 

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Nightcap at the cosy lounge on the water

 

It’s been an amazing first day in Tanzania and I am so exited for tomorrow flight to the island of Zanzibar for a week of new adventures and surprises.

“Assante” to all my new African friends and thank you for the warm welcome!

 

 

It’s time to pack and head to Zurich for the night and off to Tanzania in the morning

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I’m actually sad to be leaving this marvelous place but also exited to vista Tanzania for the first time in my life! After one last amazing breakfast at my hotel, it’s time to pack! Being the seasoned traveler that I am, I brought 2 pieces of luggage so I can pack all the winter stuff in the big suitcase and leave it behind for when I go back to LA and pack the small suitcase with my African needs, mainly bathing suits, t-shirts and shorts. I’ll miss my beautiful suite at The Kempinski with the best view in town; God know where I’ll end up staying in Africa. I have one last lunch with my dear friend Reto before hitting the road to Zurich where i will spend the night with some friends and then leave in the morning for Tanzania.

Reto has invited me and some Italian reporters at Mathis restaurant (www.mathisfood.ch); It’s the hottest restaurant in St Moritz, located at 8,000 feet at the base of Piz Nair cable car. Uber-chic skiers in Bogner and Chanel ski wear make the culinary pilgrimage to the bold-yellow multilevel ski lodge in search of chef Reto Mathis and his acclaimed kitchen of high-end culinary indulgences. On sunnier days guests also have the option of eating outside near the famed “Yacht Club” complete with vodka ice bar, fur-clad chairs and personal Beaver lap blankets. Today is such a day and we indulge on the most delicious meal while sunbathing to the Alpine sun, complete with Beaver lap blanket!

During lunch, the charming Reto Mathis makes his way to our table to meet us and chat with my Reto from Kempinski. What a beautiful day and lovely company, but Helas, it’s time to leave; my friend Riccardo from Italy has kindly offered to drive me to Zurich so I don’t have to take the train, though I do like the train ride from St. Moritz to Zurich…another time! After returning to the hotel and saying goodbye to Reto and Simona, Riccardo and I hit the road for the 2-hour drive to Zurich. It goes pretty fast, especially listening to all of Riccardo’s entertaining and somewhat ridiculous stories of all his ex, present and future girlfriends’ dramas…those Italians!

 

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The funicular to the Corviglia

 

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The Corviglia funicolar

 

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View from Mathis Restaurant



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Swiss star chef Reto Mathis

 

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The very exclusive Mathis Restaurant at the Corviglia


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Once we arrive in Zurich, I give Riccardo a little tourist tour of the beautiful city since he’s never been here. We start with the very chic Bahnhofstrasse (The Rodeo Drive of Zurich), a walk in the old town Zurich dating back to the year 450, up and down the river and finally at my favorite Bar in Zurich; The Odeon. This place had been around forever and I’ve been coming here since I was a student in my teens. Talking about students…we are meeting my dear friend Tina Serianni with whom I went to school at Franklin College, an American College in Lugano Switzerland. Tina and I will be going to Tanzania together in the morning, she works for Swiss Airlines and she’s been trying to get me to go to this magical place for many years; I finally accepted and here we go. She brought along her new French boyfriend, a tattoo artist with hardware all over his ears and nose…she’s always been a little bohemian and rebellious.

 

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Beautiful Zurich at night

 

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The Fraumünster church with Chagall’s famous stained windows

 

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Zurich’s famous bohemian Odeon Bar

 

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Odeon’s classic interior

 

After introductions, pleasantries and 3 martinis, we go to one of Zurich’s landmark restaurants: Zeughauskeller Restaurant (www.zeughauskeller.ch/home). Swiss food is not necessarily renewed in the world, but for those who know, there are a few dishes that are just amazing from this country and one of them is the famous Kalbgeschnetzeltes Zürcher Art hit Rösti…yeah, don’t even try to remember this name, it took me 20 years! It’s a veal dish, drowning in butter and cream and spices served with Switzerland’s most famous side dish: Rösti, the Swiss version of Hash Browns. Rösti is a Swiss dish consisting mainly of potatoes, in the style of a fritter. It was originally a breakfast dish, commonly eaten by farmers in the canton of Bern, but is now eaten all over Switzerland and around the world.

 

Kalbgeschnetzeltes Zürcher Art hit Rösti recipe:

Ingredients:
2 lbs veal cutlets, sliced into 3/4 in strips
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ounces unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, very finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
15 fresh sage leaves, chopped
7 ounces cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
Directions:
Sprinkle the flour over the meat and coat well. Heat half of both the butter and oil in a frying pan. As soon as the butter foams, add the meat and brown it very quickly on all sides. Set aside on a plate.
Add the rest of the butter and oil to the pan and sauté the onion, garlic and sage for a few minutes, then add the mushrooms. Stir well and when the mushrooms start to soften, continue cooking for about 5 minutes longer.
Add the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape away any crust that has formed. Add the veal and cook, stirring, until the wine has evaporated. Turn the heat down to low and cook for another 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper, and at the last moment, add the cream, let it bubble for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and serve.

 

Zeughauskeller was built in 1487, this former middle-ages armory is a bustling place located just steps from the Paradeplatz. It’s always jammed packed and you may have to wait for a table a long time. The menu is all Swiss classic, including sausages and beer…a Swiss staple!

 

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Place setting at Zeughauskeller in Zurich

 

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Zurich’s traditional dish and Zeughausekeller’s signature dish: Kalbgeschnetzeltes Zürcher Art mit Rösti…AMAZING!

 

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Zeughausekeller’s 15th century main dining room originally built as an Armory

 

After gorging on a low-carb dinner, we stumble out and make our way to the hotel for an early nigh, since I will have to meet Tina at Zurich’s airport at 7am. I am to busy digesting my dinner to realize that tomorrow I’ll be in Africa…how AMAZING!

Well goodnight possums…Chüss!