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!!!”

 

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!

 

 

Looking back at a wonderful Christmas and New Years in Los Angeles

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I can’t believe it’s been almost 3 weeks since my last post after I got back form Paris. The moment I arrived in LA, I hit the ground running, its been marathon of Christmas parties, company party, Christmas decorating and dinner planning for my family at home, finishing building my hotel project in Beverly Hills in time for a New year opening and so much more…I’ can’t believe I’m still alive and sane!!!! I feel like I’ve been through hell and back; and yet, it’s been one of the most amazing and fulfilling Christmas seasons in my life! This time around, I’ll just be writing about the highlights of the last 3 weeks in LA; it all started with getting back to my hotel project on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Yes, I’ve been designing the interiors of the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel for the last 5 months; it’s the only hotel on the internationally famous Rodeo Drive where all the best fashion designers have their gazillion dollars boutiques. We have a January 1st deadline to re-open it’s doors and I am so behind, I have no clue how I will pull this out of the hat in time for New Years. So for me the next 3 weeks is all about finishing my hotel project and try to fit in as many friend’s Christmas parties I can, my Hilton & Hyland company holiday party and yes…plan my own Christmas decorations at home and my own Christmas dinner at home for my family that is arrived in mud-December…somebody shoot me!!!!

 

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Entrance of the Luxe Hotel on Rodeo Drive

 

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Work in progress…

 

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One of my favorite holiday parties every year is Uber agent and old friend, Kevin Huvane’s; who not only hosts one of the most fun parties in LA, but also does it for a good cause, in this case, collecting endless amounts of toys for under privileged children. Arriving at his beautiful estate, walking through the entrance hall and finding Billy (the Gardner on the Ellen De Generous show) standing in front of a massive Christmas tree in a Santa hat and Santa shorts and nothing else, pretty much sets the tone for what is to come!

 

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The beautifully lit driveway to Kevin Huvane’s estate

 

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Billy the “Gardner” as Santa, David Cooley and Robert Kass

 

My company Hilton & Hyland’s holiday party, held at the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel, is a great time to catch up with my real estate peers and explain to them why I haven’t been at the office in years! I love catching up with my bosses Jeff Hyland and Rick Hilton before indulging in my favorite activity in this kind of party: getting drunk and terrorizing all the new agents in the company along with my equally naughty partners in crime: Alla Furman, Ladd Jackson, my date Laura Kelb, etc…

 

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The iconic entrance to the Beverly Hills Hotel

 

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Hilton & Hyland’s Holiday party

 

One of the most original events this season, was my dear friend Sami Hayak’s launch of his new china collection. Sami is Selma Hayak’s brother and a very talented architect; so when he told me he was launching a new product, I was curious to see what he was up to. The event took place at a very cool location named: Just One Eye in Hollywood, where Sami hosted the most amazing party I have been in a while, complete with stunning dance performances by incredibly beautiful dancers, performance art by girls painted as a Damien Hurst painting, which looked amazing in front of an actual Damien Hurst painting, an amazing guest list of art aficionados, Latin characters and beautiful people…just perfect! I hung out with my favorites people, including Loree Rodkin, Isa Jonay, Celesta Hodge, Claudia Klein, Omar and the handsome producer Christian Bettler; before continuing the night at Chateau Marmont for the after party private dinner hosted in the infamous suite # 47 at the Chateau. There, Selma Hayak and her billionaire husband François-Henri Pinault hosted the dinner for the 40 lucky guests.

 

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Dance performance at Sami Hayak’s event

 

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Sami Hayak with the dance group

 

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Damien Hurst painted lady in front of Damien Hurst painting

 

IMG_7004Performance art…


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Robert Kass and Christian Bettler

 

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Robert Kass and Loree Rodkin at Chateau Marmont

 

One of mom’s favorite shows is Cirque du Soleil, so I had no choice but to squeeze in a night at the new Kurios, Cabinet of Curiosities show that just opened at the Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for a two months run. As always, Cirque du Soleil delivered with flying colors, not to mention, it was even better sitting at the first row center…got to spoil my mama whenever I can!

 

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Arriving at Cirque du Soleil famous tent at Dodger Stadium

 

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Entering the tent

 

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View from the front row

 

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RObert Kass with Mama Anita Kass


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Spread out…

 

Another lovely evening was my dear friend and Hilton & Hyland colleague, Drew Fenton and his partner Abel’s Christmas party at their super chic new villa in the hills. Nothing like delicious Mexican Tamales for a holiday party and good tequila! I especially loved the Charlie Brown Christmas tree at the entrance that only Abel could get away with.

 

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Drew and Abel’s chic party

 

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Abel’s “Charlie Brown” Christmas Tree

 

Somewhere between all these events I also had to dress up my own home with my beautiful Christmas tree and anther decorations including my very glamorous dinner table for the 24th family celebration. Because of my whorl load, this year is just my mom, my brother David, my aunt Judy and uncle Jeff and last but not least, my dear friend Marcus who should up with 17 bottles of booze for dinner…he must think we are all alcoholics!!!


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My beautiful Christmas Tree

 

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Detail

 

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My Christmas dinner table setting

 

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Dinner table

 

Christmas dinner was amazing and even more amazing was doing absolutely nothing on Christmas day beside eating and witching movies with mom and David. The 26 was back at work for the final marathon to complete the hotel by December 31st!!!! My next post will hopefully be photos of my “Finished” beautiful hotel…or a photo of a very sad Robert who got fired for not finishing the hotel in time!!!! Stay tuned…

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all of you…my dearest possums!!!!!

One more holiday weekend in Paris before returning to LA for Christmas with the family.

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After a few days in Los Angeles for work and to get my Christmas tree together, it’s off to Paris again for one last weekend before coming back to LA for Christmas Eve with the family. Paris has recently gone though one of the worst terrorist attacks in their history, it has shaken them to the core and I feel that it is imperative to support them by doing exactly what the perpetrators of such evil want from you: to live in fear and hide at home, disrupting an entire city’s economy and lifestyle. So now more than ever, it is crucial to go to Paris and support them by being there and doing all the things that you would do at any other time whilst visiting this magical city. It’s a small contribution, but worthy of my efforts!

The moment I arrive at LAX airport, I immediately notice the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks; it’s one of the busiest times of the year at LAX, but you won’t know by entering the Tom Bradley International Terminal today…It’s a ghost town! The State Department just issued a travel alert for all Americans traveling abroad and you can definitely see the impact it has had on travelers. That’s why I firmly believe, it’s now more important than ever to travel and show these terrorists that we shall not change our way of life and give in to fear and intimidation. Finally, it’s time to board my Swiss flight to Paris in my very comfortable business class seat for the 12-hour flight.

 

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Arriving at LAX

 

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The incredibly empty International Terminal at LAX

 

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Not a soul in the Duty Free shopping area at LAX

 

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More…



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I’m the only pine at the Business Class lounge…so spooky!

 

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My home for the next 12 hours

 

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My comfortable cubical on Swiss Airlines

 

I’m meeting my dear friend Luc Cartier, who is flying in from Montreal with a few friends of his to support the Parisian as well. We are staying at a lovely apartment in Avenue Montaigne, one of the best neighborhoods in Paris and where all the best shopping, eating and drinking happens daily in great style. The flat is literally 2 doors up from one of my favorite restaurants: L’Avenue, 2 blocks away from the George V Hotel and across the street from Louis Vuitton…perfection! Once I arrive at the Paris airport, I immediately notice the high security presence all around and a chilling sadness on people’s faces; it’s gut wrenching to see my favorite city going through such heartache. I leave politics and acts of war and terrorism out of my blog, but I can’t help feeling so sad about what’s happening here. On the way to the center of Paris you can’t ignore how empty the streets are and when I finally arrive at my destination, you immediately see all the empty streets, cafes and shops…it’s a tragedy! All I can think about is to go out there with my band of friends and eat and drink in as many cafes and restaurants as possible, go to more museums (even though I’ve seen them all) and go shopping for Christmas presents. I will be out there defiant and undeterred and in due time, so will all the Parisians who will always rise from the ashes to shine once again!

All right, let’s do this! First thing is the Christmas village down the Champs Élisée, where every holiday season, a bunch of street vendors build their little Christmas themed huts and sell just about anything wintery or touristy. Luc and I start the late morning with a Vin Brulée to get the internal temperature up from the frosty 45-Fahrenheit Parisian weather. My favorite part is the Michael Jackson’s Thriller ride with black mannequins of Michael Jackson dressed as Santa…to funny! We are making our way to Place de La Concorde where the enormous Farris Wheel stands in the middle of the square; I have serious fear of heights, but as I said, we must show our support by going on these very public rides in order to make a point…that’s of course if I don’t throw up in the little gondola on the way up; that would make a different kind of point all together! Sadly, there is no one in line, so we make our way to the scary gondola in no time; the climb to the top is beyond scary but the fear is quickly repaved by the shear beauty of this city from high up! Everywhere you look is spectacular and gives you a real understanding of the size and beauty of this City of Lights. All right, photos taken…get me off this thing!!!! We are meeting my darling friend Vincent Simonet, the Opera Singer, at Chez George, a charming, super French bistro in the Marais area; though my food was not terribly good, the place is simply fabulous; don’t order the Veal Brains…No Bueno! The server was hilarious trying to pick up my friend Vincent during the entire lunch with no shame whatsoever…Got to love these French! It’s back at Avenue Montaigne for a siesta before our marathon night with Luc’s Canadian friends followed by my international posse.

 

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Walking by the Super Chic Plaza Athenée on Avenue Montaigne

 

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The charming Christmas market on the Champs Élisée

 

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My favorite…Roasted Chestnuts

 

IMG_6780Vin Brulée to warm the soul


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More Vin Brulée…got to keep warm possums!

 

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The hilarious Michael Jackson Thriller ride with the scary black mannequins dressed as Santa

 

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The giant Ferris Wheel in Place de La Concorde

 

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Scared to death!!!

 

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The amazing views from high-up on the Farris Wheel: Arc de Triomphe

 

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Tulleries

 

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Eiffel Tower

 

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The Louvre

 

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Rue Rivoli


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The quirky Chez George

 

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Dining Room at Chez George

 

First order of things is drinks at out favorite bar at the George V Hotel…again!!!! It’s a great way to start the evening with my usual Lychee Martini. When you walk in the hotel you are immediately mesmerized by Jeff Leatham’s extraordinary new 10′ tall blue-mirrored penguins that sit in the center of the lobby along with the most beautiful flower arrangements that only Jeff can produce. When you make your way to the Bar…another gasping surprise: a 14′ glass freezer enclosure with a 10′ tall Ice sculpture of a few penguins inside it; never have I seen such originality and “Wow” factor for a Christmas display.

 

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View from our balcony on Avenue Montaigne

 

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Walking over to George V Hotel

 

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The Dior store CHristmas decoration

 

IMG_6754Jeff Leatham’s incredible mirror Penguins at George V Hotel


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With Vincent Simonet

 

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More…

 

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The mirror Bear in the Couryard at George V Hotel

 

IMG_6757My favorite Martini in the world

 

Luc and I are meeting a whole bunch of Canadian actors and producers friends of his from Montreal at this darling restaurant: La Rotisserie on the Rive Gauche                             (www.larotisseriedelatour.com), owned by the legendary La Tour D’Argent                           (www.tourdargent.com), which happens to be just next door. My dear friend Vincent Simonet is join us for what will surely turn out to be a messy evening…you know those Canadians! The Duck Confit is beyond amazing, which is their specialty, and the company is hilarious with a very drunk Diane who keeps singing Donna Summer’s hits and our fabulous friend from Montreal Annie Delisle, who owns the best male stripper club in Montreal!!!

 

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The legendary La Tour d’Argent Restaurant

 

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La Rôtisserie Menu

 

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La Rôtisserie dining room

 

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And kitchen…

 

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My canadians: Luc, Annie Delisle and Diane

 

Finally it’s time for the glamorous segment of this evening; a uber-chic party at Ginger Restaurant, that my jet-setter friend Carol Asscher is having for her usual group of fabulous people…just because she can! There, I’m meeting my beautiful friend Kasia and a fellow Angelino and realtor Barry Peele. This is the part where we all get slaushed and messy, so I will kindly take my leave and say goodnight now and see you all back in LA by Christmas Eve where I will meet with my family for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner.

 

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With the super chic Carol Asscher and friend

 

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With the stunning Kasia and Barry Peele


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IMG_6763The Symbol of French endurance and perseverance…Vive la France!!!

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…

 

IMG_5224Pont Alexandre III


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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.

Hitting the Grand Bazaar with Cher and Loree Rodkin, dinner at Zuma and party at Soho House, Istanbul

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Starting the day in Istanbul, or more specifically at Nibbles’ house, is quite an experience; breakfast is served on the outside veranda, right on the Bosphorus and it’s an eclectic feast of local fruits and vegetables, a variety of breads, home made jams, feta cheese-cucumbers and peeled tomatoes, olives, omelets, and more!!!! It’s so much food, but all so delicious you can’t stop! Today we are going to the famous Grand Bazaar, an Istanbul institution and a must-do when visiting this city.

The Grand Bazaar, built in the 15th century, is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops, which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It is listed No.1 among world’s most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors. 

It’s not for the faint hearted, in fact it’s a hustle and bustle of the craziest kind; it’s the art of buying and selling at it’s best. If you don’t know how to haggle…you will be taken advantage here with no mercy! I’ve been going here for years and sharpened my skills with every passing year to the point of perfection!!! Everyone shops here: locals and tourists alike, there are western prices and local ones and the trick is to get closest to the local price as you can. However, today’s visit will be a whole new experience for me; why you ask? Because CHER is going with us! I cannot even imagine how it will be like visiting the Grand Bazaar, with hundreds of thousands of visitors, with one of the most famous and iconic figures of our century…I’m breathless with anticipation!

We are off to the Four Season Hotel to pick up the divas: Cher & Loree Rodkin with entourage. It’s a quick boat ride across the waters and under a few bridges on the Bosporus and here we are here. Loree is already waiting in the lobby, as she is always on time; unfortunately you cannot say the same of lady” C”… one hour and a half later, HRH makes it to the lobby. With us is a pair of a Turkish version of a Navy Seals, who look more like Manchurian assassins than body guards…they are terrifying!! It was four of them to begin with , but Cher felt it would warrant unwanted attention, so cut it down to 2…thankfully!


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Raffi and myself on the way to the Four Season Hotel to pick up the divas

 

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Going under one of Istanbul famous bridges

 

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At the Four Season Hotel waiting for the Divas

 

After a 45 minutes van ride to the old center of town we are ready to rumble. Your first time at this 600 year old market is truly breathtaking; the energy around here is intoxicating and the thousands of stands selling everything and anything your heart desires make your head spin. We walk through the grand entrance into one of the main streets of the bazaar; people are staring the entire time, but can’t quite make out if it’s really Cher, a “Look-a-like” or a drag queen. What are the chances of her walking around one of the busiest markets in the world with just two bodyguards and a few friends; It’s the foreigners that recognize her immediately, but have no doubt, NO one is getting through the Manchurian Assassins!!! We shop and shop and shop till we can’t feel our feet anymore; I’m the chosen “Haggler” for the whole group, so after 3 hours of wheeling and dealing; I’m literally spent!!!! It’s time for a swim, a massage and a nap back home before getting ready for dinner at one of my favorite restaurant in Istanbul: Zuma.

 

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The newly restored Beyazit Mosque by the Grand Bazaar

 

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Entrance to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

 

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One of the many covered streets in the Grand Bazaar

 

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Shops and more shops

 

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Looking like a total tourist at the Grand Bazaar


IMG_4617 2One of the many Cafés inside the Grand Bazaar



IMG_4616The amazing painted 15th century arched ceilings inside the Grand Bazaar



IMG_4619Café life at the Grand Bazaar



P1010158The amazing 15th century vaulted ceilings in the Old Grand Bazaar

 

10PM, time to pick up the gang again for dinner at Zuma (www.zumarestaurant.com). Yes, dinner in Istanbul starts at 10PM and continues till the wee hours of the morning…no Blue Light Special here! It takes a while to get used to eating so late, but when in Rome. Zuma’s cosmopolitan twist on traditional Japanese Izakaya cuisine, sits well with the Turkish elite. Like Las Vegas in the 90′, Istanbul is attracting all the big names in the culinary world: like Nobu, Cipriani, Spago, Ciccone’s, etc. Zuma, however, has one of the most beautiful terraces on the Bosphorus and sitting here for dinner overlooking the water, the lit mosques and the colorful bridges is truly spectacular! The food is delicious and reminiscent of Nobu’s cuisine; the miso marinated black cod wrapped in hobs leaf, the roasted lobster with chilli ponzu butter and the chili marinated lamb chops and homemade pickles, take the cake! A lovely lady from the table next to us, courageously comes over to our table and tells Cher how honored they are that she is in Istanbul and extended a big welcome on behalf of the Turkish people…dramatic but heartwarming. What an amazing group tonight: Loree Rodkin, Cher, Raphael Tessier, Jen, Endar, Paulette Howell and myself; we are all having the best time and all thanks to the best hostess in Turkey, our own, wonderful Nibbles. Once again, before you know it, it’s 2am and time for the ladies to retire and for the boys to go hunting!


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Dusk on the Bosforus

 

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Arriving at the Four Season Hotel to pick up the gang

 

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Me and the beautiful Nibbles

 

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The stunning terrace on the Bosforus at Zuma Restaurant

 

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Another view from Zuma restaurant

 

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Jenn, Endar and Paulette Howell at Zuma

 

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Loree Rodkin and Jen

 

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Cher and Robert Kass at Zuma

 

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Exotic fruit platter with tropical sorbet at Zuma

 

IMG_4594 2Turkish balls on ice…couldn’t help myself.

 

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The beautiful mosque on the Bosphorus


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One of the many changing colors of Istanbul’s bridges

 

Endar, Raphael and myself are going to the newly opened, member’s only, Soho House Istanbul (www.sohohouseistanbul.com), for a few nightcaps and a mingle with Istanbul’s elite…or so I’m told. The building, built in 1873, is absolutely spectacular; prior to Soho House takeover, Palazzo Corpi, as it is named, used to be the home of the US ambassador. In 2014, Soho House bought the building and began extensive restoration work on the Palazzo, returning it to its former glory. We are greeted with open arms by Soho’s charming manager who takes us for a tour of the Palazzo before we join a few of Endar’s friends on the rooftop bar. The place is beyond beautiful and without doubt, the most beautiful Soho House of all. The view of the Bosphorus and the city skyline from here is just amazing, not to mention, the rooftop pool looks very inviting and available to guests for a swim anytime. The crowd is definitely über chic and a testament to the growing, young Turkish society that is hungry for the best the West has to offer! It’s now 3AM and I am ready for my gorgeous bedroom on the water; tomorrow it’s sightseeing and a marvelous sit-down dinner on an old steamer boat, up and down the Bosphorus with best friends from both the US and Turkey…cannot wait!

 

IMG_4719Arriving at the stunning Soho House Istanbul

 

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Stairwell at Soho House

 

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One of the Grand Bars at Soho House

 

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Soho House Lobby

 

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Rooftop restaurant at Soho House

 

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A tired Robert Kass leaving the Soho House