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!!!

Mother Africa here I come!

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Wake up call at 5:30am…Ugh!!!!! Still to tired to realize I’m off to Africa…and probably still digesting last night’s dinner. I can’t wait to get out of this hideous hotel I found by the airport: Hotel Mövempick. It’s like a Russian army bunker from the 30′, really depressing…never again! Riccardo is driving me to Zurich’s airport which is 5 minutes away, where I am meeting my childhood friend Tina: my Africa expert, travel companion and Swiss Airlines 1st class “Hostess with the mostess”. Tina has been telling me about Tanzania for 20 year and trying to convince me to go with her sometime; for some reason, Africa was never on my radar as a place I want to visit, but in the last 6-7 years, my interests have changed and Africa has become a definite destination priority.

 

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Ready to board.

 

So here I am boarding my flight to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania for the 11 hours flight with a stop over in Nairobi, Kenya. I settle into my lovely business class nest when Tina comes by to ask me if I want to go in the cockpit with the pilots for taxi and takeoff…Ahh…Helllooooo???? Of course I want to do that; how amazing! So off I go to the cockpit, where after a few pleasantries with the 2 pilots, we are “Go’ for takeoff; I’ve done this before on private jets but never on a massive commercial airliner…it’s incredible!!! The pilots are also really nice, especially the older one who immediately asked me about that psychopath Donald Trump and his bid for the presidency of the United States. The second pilot seemed barely old enough to drive a car…scary!

 

IMG_7693Taking my place in the cockpit


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Taxing on the runway

 

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Taking off

 

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Up up in the air!

 

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View of the Alps from the cockpit

 

IMG_7689The empty first class section

 

IMG_7747My darling Tina making me a little treat in the first class galley

 

Through the entire trip, I visit the cockpit every time there is something special to look at; watching the sunset over Sudan is truly spectacular…though I couldn’t resist asking the pilot if it was safe flying over this notorious enemy of the state and breeder of terrorists; the pilot laughs! After about 11 hours we are making our descent to Dar es Salaam and I am in the cockpit to witness the night landing…amazing!!


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Sunset over Sudan from the cockpit

 

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View of the landing strip from the cockpit

 

The first big shocker is getting out of the aircraft and experiencing the sweltering 100 degrees and 100% humidity environment that is Tanzania. The 1-hour visa process through the sauna-like terminal is beyond unbearable! I know…I sound like a spoiled westerner traveling abroad; but I’m not kidding when I say it’s really a tough experience. Finally we board the Swiss Airlines air conditioned van with the entire crew….ahhhhhhh, finally things are looking up! It’s almost midnight and I am spent from an entire day of travel; we are leaving for our hotel where I’ll be spending 2 nights before going to the island of Zanzibar. Tina and I are ready to hit the sack in the coldest room in Dar es Salaam…heaven!!! Jambo Jambo

 

My Hotel project is finished and I definitely need a brake…off to Switzerland for some great skiing

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After five months of hard work, I have finally finished designing my first Hotel in my long and multifaceted career. Interior design has always been one of my favorite interests in life, and though I never pursued it professionally, I have designed dozens of restaurants and bars through the years along with some other projects for fiends of mine, but this project was quite special; not only it’s my first hotel, but also the first time I work for a proper client, beside my projects and my friends. I am so grateful for being given the opportunity to take on a project of this kind and visibility on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and to really show my work at a whole different level! None of this would have happened if not for my beloved BFF Ilona Margolis who promoted me and my talents to the right people with more passion and conviction than I would ever be able to do. I have now been entrusted with designing my clients’ next hotel in Brentwood; but in true Kass fashion, before I dive into my second hotel, I need a little brake and I can’t think of anything more extreme than a week in the Swiss Alps for some skiing in freezing weather and another week in scorching hot Tanzania, Africa!

 

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Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel Entrance


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New Club sign

 

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New reception area


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New Lobby

 

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New Lobby

 

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Library detail with Salvador Dali print

 

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One of the many beautiful pieces of art at the new hotel

 

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The dramatic Lacquered wood paneled hallway at the new Luxe Hotel

 

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The new outside patio on Rodeo Drive

 

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The new Bar at The Luxe Hotel

 

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Bar detail

 

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New bar and dining room

 

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New dining room

 

To celebrate my latest achievement and my last night in LA, I decide to spend the night at home alone with a bowl of Beluga caviar, a bottle of Tattinger Champagne, toasted Pain de Mie and Leonardo di Caprio’s latest epic movie: The Revenant…my kind of BLISS!!! The next day is a whole different thing…I spend most of the morning agonizing on how to pack for such an extreme combination of climates; finally I go for a larger suitcase packed with as many cashmeres I can get my hands on, all my sky gear and any warm clothing item I can find and a smaller suitcase with flip flops, bathing suit, t-shirts and two large cans of mosquito repellent…a must when traveling in Africa!!! Perfect, it’s time to Uber myself to LAX for my long haul to Zurich, Switzerland where my brother will pick me up and drive me to the most beautiful winter wonderland in the world: St. Moritz!!! Of course, I fly my beloved Swiss Airlines, who surprised me this time with a better than usual dinner menu that I thoroughly enjoyed before popping my sleeping pill for the twelve hour beauty-sleep to Zurich.

 

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My idea of a perfect night!

 

I was having dreams of mosquitos attacking me in Africa when I get a tap on my shoulder and awake to find out we are arriving in Zurich! After a short layover I board the small propeller plane to Lugano where my brother is waiting for me for the 2 hour drive to St. Mortiz. The drive is beyond amazing from Lugano through the Swiss alps, covered in snow to our final destination, the super chic Kempinski Hotel.

 

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View from my seat

 

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Delicious dinner on Swiss Airlines

 

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Abord the small propellor plane to Lugano


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Zurich at dusk from my plane

 

IMG_7411Amazing views of the Swiss Alps at dusk

 

We are staying at the beautiful Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains in St. Mortiz, the historical ski resort that had its first winter season in 1814-15;  it’s charismatic director is my childhood friend Reto Stockenius, one of Switzerland’s best Hotel General Managers and long time friend of mine from my early days in Lugano Switzerland. Reto is the kindest and most generous soul and he is married to yet another childhood friend of mine from school: Simona Stockenius. It’s a real treat to be able to stay at his hotel and share some time together after soooo many years knowing each other. Reto’s class-act style is evident form the first minute I enter my room with a welcome bottle of Veuve Clicquot, a delicious almond tart, typical of this region and more goodies in toe. What was supposed to be a standard room, was upgraded to a one bedroom stunning suite with the most incredible view of St. Mortiz and the Swiss alps skyline. I’m in Heaven!!!!


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The stunning Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains in St. Moritz

 

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The best welcome treats in my suite from my dear friend and Director Reto Stockenius



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The Stunning vIew from my suite with full moon

 

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More images form my room

 

After settling in Jonathan and I make our way to one of the oldest and most renowned eateries in St. Moritz: Veltlinerkeller. This place has been around for generations and we’ve been going here since I was a kid; they are famous for their Pizzoccheri, which is whole-wheat pasta with potatoes, Spinach smothered with a local melted cheese…divine!!!! I was a little apprehensive about dining under a huge head of a Moose, but after a few glasses of wine, he turned out to be quite interesting! I have the best time catching up with my little brother, but j between my main course and dessert, jet lag kicks in and I’m ready to go back to my fancy suite and turn in!

 

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One of my favorite restaurants: Feltlinerkeller

 

IMG_7457The very Swiss interior at Feltlinerkeller


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Their signature dish: Pizzoccheri della Valtellina



IMG_7470My brother Jonathan Kass and someone we picked up along the way…


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Being naughty with our new friend

 

Oh…by the way, did I mention it’s 18 degrees below zero in St. Moritz? I am quickly reminded how thin my blood has become living in LA for so many years; the frost is truly unbearable!!!! Once back at the hotel, I can’t help feeling so nostalgic, overwhelmed by so many memories from my past in this place: from my late father, to my many friends from my youth I lost touch with and so many glamorous events I was so lucky to attend in St. Moritz. I can’t wait to be back on the slopes tomorrow for the first time in 20 years. I hope this old carcass of mine will make it though the day without braking anything!

Good night everybody from this enchanting place…bloody freezing too!!!

 

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

A quick flight over the Swiss Alps and off to one of my favorite countries: Turkey.

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I could hardly sleep last night from the excitement of today’s trip to one of my favorite cities: Istanbul. It has become a yearly pilgrimage of sort, an event that I look forward too the entire year: a time to visit my beloved, adopted Turkish family. It’s a time of raw fun, beauty, drama-free-unconditional love from the most unassuming, generous and loving people one could hope to have in their life’s…a really hard thing to find in my neck of the woods. This time around, my friend Raphael is flying in from Montreal and joining me in Istanbul for a 3-week journey all around Europe.

It’s always hard to leave my family, but after the usual chaotic, screaming children, food flying, back talking breakfast at the Kass’s, I’m ready for the next chapter. My brother Jonathan drives me to Lugano’s own tiny airport; an Airport that surprisingly has gone in and out of business 10 times in the last 40 years, so you never know if you can fly into it or out of it! Thankfully, it’s in business today, so I can catch my flight to Zurich for my connection to Istanbul. After a teary goodbye with my little brother, it’s time to board this tiny Austrian Airlines propeller plane…not exactly my cup of tea, in fact, I hate small propeller planes, this little “Suiso” needs “Jets”; but the alternative is a 3 hour train or car ride to Zurich…so suck it up! The flight to Zurich is only 30 minutes but absolutely spectacular; flying over the Swiss Alps mountain range is truly an amazing sight. I couldn’t help but notice that the amount of snow on the mountains is the lowest I have ever seen in my life; As far as I can remember, it was always totally white, year round. Now, it’s hard to find the snow; they say climate change is to blame…sounds really scary to me!

 

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Lugano’s own small airport

 

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Austrian Airlines propellor plane to Zurich Airport…God help me!

 

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The Swiss alps with surprisingly little snow to show for

 

Once arrived in Istanbul airport, my hosts “Welcoming’ agent is awaiting at the end of the ramp to escort me through Visa lines, Passport lines and just about every other line in this very busy airport. He’s been welcoming me for years now and we still cannot communicate one word to one another: him no English…me no Turkish. He’s an ex cop in charge of Airport security who looks more like a Manchurian assassin than a greeter; the first time I saw him I ran the opposite way, fearing for my life. That’s until I found out he worked for my hosts and is, in fact, the biggest Teddy bear ever!!! Once at the baggage claim, I reunite with my friend Raffi who arrived just about an hour earlier and was waiting for me to go to our final destination on the Bosporus.

Traffic is a big problem in Istanbul; a lot like Mexico City, so the fastest way to Nibbles’s house is driving to the nearest ocean point on the Bosporus and then have a speedboat meet you there and take you the rest of the way to the house on the water (certainly NOT an option if you’re on a budget). After a 45 minutes drive we reach the water where Nibbles’s captain is waiting for us; the boat ride to the house is breathtaking no matter how many times you do it. You go by so many monuments along these old waters; palaces after palaces from the old Ottoman Empire, built by the very lavish Sultans. You go under the new, modern bridges that link the European continent to the Asian one; the contrast between old and new is striking.

Finally we are home! Seeing Nibbles, dad and the kiddies is always an enormous pleasure; after lots of kisses and hugs we make our way to the guest suites to settle in and prepare for tonight’s “Welcome” traditional Turkish dinner party at the house. We have a special treat this summer: after trying for years to get the one and only Cher to visit this amazing country, she finally agreed and has arrived today in Istanbul along with BFF (and my wifey) Loree Rodkin and will be joining us for dinner tonight and for the next 3 days. After a much-needed nap, it’s time to get dressed and meet my fab friends Mr. and Mrs. K, Omer Karajan, Alasdair Dundas and sweet Endar for drinks at the fabulous, Roman columned veranda overlooking the Bosporus. Catching up with everyone over fresh watermelon and vodka martinis is always a favorite of mine and watching the boats going back and forth in front of you, with beautifully lit medieval castles and bridges is truly magical…never gets old!

 

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On the boat and on our way to Nibbles house

 

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I think Raffi is happy to see me

 

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Çiragan Palace from our boat

 

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View of the medieval castle from my bedroom

 

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View of the pool and the bridge from my bedroom

 

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View from the bridge from the gardens

 

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Amazing night view of the bridge linking both European and Asian continents

 

At last, my darling Loree Rodkin, Cher, Paulette Howell (who’s husband is the producer of South Park) and her long time assistant Jennifer, arrive via boat from the Four Season Hotel; it’s time for an amazing Turkish dinner with all it’s Mediterranean influenced dishes…and more watermelon martinis. It’s a really fun group and such an intimate delightful gathering; before you know it, we laugh our way to 2am in no time.

Tomorrow is a BIG day, so it’s off to bed for a relatively early night; I cannot wait to show “newbies” Cher and Raphael the Grand Bazaar tomorrow…God help us!

 

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Two of my favorite people: Loree Rodkin and Raphael Tessier

 

IMG_4546Three of my favorite people: Nibbles, Raffi and Loree

 

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“WE” are off to London Town…England that is!

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After a very brief few days in LA, it’s off to London to celebrate my 40…ish birthday and check out what’s new in one of my favorite cities in the world! London is very dear to me, I lived in London throughout my youth and went to grammar school at St. George School in Hanover Square where I was made to wear a red blazer, red shorts, striped white & red tie and red hat…I believe that’s where it all went pear shaped! When my father, Ronald Kass, was asked by the Beatles to be President and founder of Apple Records in the early 70′; we all moved to the lovely neighborhood know as Mayfair. My brother and I were very young and started living between Lugano, Switzerland and London. Even after my dad and his, then bride, Joan Collins moved back to LA, I continued my love affair with London for many years up to the present day. Through all these years I’ve cultivated amazing friendships in London that I continue to enjoy immensely and use as an excuse to pay the occasional visit.

I am particularly exited about this leg of the trip because I am using the website Airbnb for the first time (www.airbnb.com) and I’ve rented a lovely 1 bedroom apartment in Chelsea, one of my favorite neighborhood in London. I’ve been hearing about his new way of lodging for some time and I decided to take the leap and try it out; who knows…is this the death of my usual high priced hotel rooms? I’m also exited to fly one of my top 3 airlines in the world: British Airways (www.britishairways.com); This time around, I managed to get a free…ish business class trip with my American Express miles, even though the tax and luxury fee you have to pay on a miles ticket is pretty steep; even so…it’s a hell of a lot better than the standard $8000 plus you have to fork out for this kind of fare! So off i go for my favorite travel routine: cocktails, dinner, 2 movies, sleeping pill, sleep, breakfast and I’m in London! I’m flying the massive Airbus 380 for the first time, so I did my legwork (as I always do before traveling) and researched which is the best floor on this double decker-flying monster and which is the best seat I should get; as usual, I refer to www.seatguru.com to do the job. Top floor, window seat it is!

After a brief visit to the very un-impressive business class lounge at the new International Terminal at LAX, I’m ready to nestle into my fancy little cubical for the next 12 hours. The first thing I notice when I arrive to my seat, is that they are arranged in such a way that the person next to you is NOT facing the same direction as you are, as in all flights, but the opposite way; meaning, he’s next to you and facing you! We’re talking facing faces 2 feet away from one another. Now, I have two problems with this, first of all, I need to face the direction that the plane is flying towards, no flying backwards for my sister! Number two, it’s very uncomfortable and awkward having a perfect stranger so close to you trying not to stare you in the face; of course there is an electronic separator that you can raise once you reach 35,000 feet, which opens up a new set of issues of who will be the first to have the courage to raise the privacy wall. I definitely don’t like this layout at all! I try to break the ice with my neighbor with a few witty remarks, but apparently he was not amused and asked to be moved to another seat! All the better, now I don’t have to stare at “Mr. Humorless” and I can raise the separator without feeling rude. I thought my remarks were quite funny…oh well.

Not a moment after settling into my seat, I hear a voice from the cubical behind me: “Robert, is that you???”. I can’t believe it, it’s my dear friend Bob Semanovich, who just happens to be in the seat behind me…what a laugh! Bob and I go back a long time and I’m so exited to have all this time to catch up with him since we haven’t had a chance to visit in quite a while. Bob is a big shot in the music industry and I am pleased to hear that he is going to London for a big music festival at Wimbledon Stadium that his company is organizing and even more exited that he will give me two tickets to the event…I guess I’ll have to fit that in my very busy London schedule somehow! All right, enough pleasantries with Bob, we both want to pop a pill, sink into our flat beds and sleep our way to London…ZZZZZZZZZ.

 

 

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British Airways’ flying monster Airbus A 380

 

 

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BA’s weird business class layout with facing seats

 

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The very comfortable business class cubicles on the Airbus 380

 

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My surprise traveling neighbor Bob Semanovich

 

We are just about to land and I’m anxious to see my new Airbnb “flat” in Chelsea. After a short 45-minute Uber ride (these people are everywhere!!!) I arrive art the flat to meet Alessandro, the landlord; I am happy to say that this place meets all my expectations; a charming classic English 1 bedroom apartment with lots of light, a lovely terrace for my afternoon tea (that will never happen…) a fully equipped new kitchen and a very comfortable bed. The location is perfect, just in the mix of things and e few Uber pounds away from my social neck of the woods. I settle in, unpack my 15 outfits for my English stay…yes, you need lots of outfits when socializing in London, lots of fashion rules, fashion snobs, mandatory suits or dinner jackets in many places, all rules to which I gladly succumb to…coming from LA where you wear shorts and flip flops to a wedding! In the rush of things leaving LA I did forget a tie and tonight I’m going to the chicest and most exclusive private club in London: Loulou’s, where jacket and tie is a must to enter, so is a membership! Thankfully, my dear friend George Glasgow is a member and has invited me to dinner at this “impossible to get in” new spot.

So it’s off to Jermyn Street, one of my favorites streets in London for shopping; I’ve been coming here since I was a baby with my dad who was very fashion forward and extremely dapper. One of his favorites was Turnbull & Asser, a very old fashion English brand that has been around since 1885. I’m a sucker for tradition so I think it appropriate to honor my father’s memory with a tie from this gorgeous and yes, quite stuffy store. $150 later, I have a tie for tonight; it’s now off to my beloved Fortum & Mason for a little visual stimulation; This iconic department store, as Harrods, is a tribute to England and all that is traditionally English; it’s been around since 1707 (like most everything in this country) and it’s the definition of English high-end shopping. Though I am always so temped to stock up on their amazing tea selection, biscuits, Stilton cheese, patés, etc… this time around, my long travel schedule won’t allow weighing myself up with merchandize, so it’s going to be just a jar of my favorite Blue Stilton cheese and some water crackers for my afternoon snacking back at the Chelsea apartment.

 

 

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Jermyn Street, SW1

 

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Windows at Turnbull & Asser

 

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Side entrance at Fortnum & Mason

 

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One of the many beautiful design features at Fortnum & Mason



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Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly Road

 

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Wine and spirits hall at Fortnum & Mason

 

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Fortnum & Mason’s famous teas

 

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Alright, it’s time to go back for a nap and get ready to meet my dear friend George Glasgow (CEO of G.J. Cleverley & Co., one of the best of bespoke English shoemaking and craftsmanship), for an evening at London’s hottest new private club: Loulou’s. Turns out two good American friends of mine, Michelle and Jason Sheldon are also in London so I invite them along with my British friend Robert Banner to join me at 5 Hartford Place, Mayfair; which happens to be just a few blocks away from my old house on South Street. It’s time to see what all the fuss is about; we enter though the very nondescript side door and into a small reception area where immediately you are asked for your name and membership; after telling the very well dressed gentlemen that I was expected by George Glasgow, we are ushered into the the main salon to sign our names on a book and then directed to the Martini Bar on the 3rd floor where George is waiting for us with Martinis at hand.

Loulou’s has become the hotspot for London’s upper crust; it’s a multi-story townhouse, along Mayfair’s Shepherd’s market. Owner Robin Birley, English businessman and political activist, has transformed this traditional townhouse into several lounges, a drawing room, a martini bar, a library, a cigar room, stunning courtyard, a nightclub and two très chic restaurants all designed by Turkish fashion designer Rifat Ozbek (who’s never designed an interior space before). Robin Birley, is the son of Mark Birley and Lady Annabel Goldsmith, who themselves owned several members’ clubs in London, including the legendary Annabel’s and Harry’s Bar, both of which I frequented as a young lad. Each room at Loulou’s has a different mood and provides a totally different experience. There’s a stuffed giraffe, greeting the guests as they enter the Madagascan Bar on the way to the over-the-top disco room. The who’s who of London are regulars here including the Royal family, Mick Jagger, Daphne Guinness, Kate Moss, me, George Clooney and the list goes on.

By 10 pm the place is packed and it is practically impossible to move, having been in LA for so long, you can’t not notice how everyone, and I mean everyone, is so elegantly dressed in suits and ties, black ties, long gowns and fashion galore…these Brits sure know how to whip it up! Drinks start at $30 a drink so you better be ready for a BIG bill; my favorite is the passion fruit martini! I don’t even dare find out how much dinner costs; then again London is the most expensive city in the world, so if you’re on a budget, you got your work cut out for you!!! My favorite story of the night is when the group “One Direction” came in without being members and arrogantly told the front host: “don’t you know who we are?? We are One Direction and we want in!!!!” to which the host calmly replied: “I’m terribly sorry Sir, but you are not members of the club, so the only direction you’re going is out the door!!!” So British…so Brilliant!!!!

 

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Loulou’s on 5 Hertford Street

 

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My Posse: George Glasgow, Michelle Sheldon, Jason Sheldon and Robert Banner

 

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The Dining Room

 

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One of the two stunning Dining rooms

 

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The beautiful outdoor patio

 

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3rd floor Martini Bar

 

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Basement Bar and night club complete with stuffed Giraffe

 

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The venerable toilet at Loulou’s

 

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The beautiful Madagascan Bar

 

IMG_3790Passion fruit Martini at $35 a pop.

 

George is set on showing me every room at Loulou’s, where of course we must have a drink; so 8 rooms later, I’m about to pass out! This place is really fancy so perhaps it’s time to leave before I make a fool of myself. Michelle, Jason, Robert and I have the brilliant idea of walking to Barkley Square for a nightcap at Morton’s…that part is a little blurry but I know I was there because I have a photo to prove it! Thankfully I make it back safely to my Chelsea pad; what a great first night in London!!!! Tootles possums…talk tomorrow!

 

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4AM at Morton’s in Barkley Square for a nightcap…hopefully!

 

Peru…here I come!!!

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I am so exited to visit Peru, I’ve always wanted to experience this mystical country with all it’s different layers: the Andes and Machu Picchio, Cusco, Lima, the jungle, the ocean, the desert, the funny little Peruvian outfits…hats and all. I finally have a great reason to journey to this enchanted country thanks to my dear friend Javier Millership, an English born Peruvian that I met several years ago in Los Angeles, who has courageously offered to show me this amazing land.

Since I’m in Mexico City, a skip and a hop away from Peru (not really…), there is no better time to go! I board my night flight on Aeromexico to Lima (www.aeromexico.com); there are only coach seats on this flight but if you ask ahead for the emergency exit seat # 14A, you will have plenty of leg room since there is no seat in front of you. I arrive at 11:45 PM in the chaotic airport of Lima; after a long line through customs, I finally reach the arrival area where my dear Javier is waiting breathless with anticipation…or so I like to think. After another long line to pay for the parking, we reach Javier’s SUV where, ever so casually, he pulls out a Glock 9mm pistol and an AK47 look alike contraption and sets it between us in the middle armrest. Clearly, I’m a little taken back by the sight of “Peruvian Rambo 2.0”, but he casually reassures me with heart warming words: “This is the way it works in Peru”… So there you have it!

The ride home is dark, traffic is brutal, even at 1am, and the landscape is definitely third world, though I’m more concerned about that gun pointing my way and accidentely shooting through my thigh! By the time we arrive at his ocean side, 3 floors penthouse on the famous Maleçon, it’s 2am so there is just time for a quick “Bienvenido” cheer with Peruvian pink champagne on the rooftop overlooking the Lima coastline and off to bed…a very comfortable bed I might add!

 

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The “Terminator” Javier Millership

 

The moment I wake up and look out my window, I realize the beauty of the Lima costal landscape, to which I have a front view from my bedroom window and terrace. It’s the beginning of winter now in Peru, so the weather is tamer and there is a beautiful morning mist throughout the coast that burns out in the early afternoon. Javier know well how much I love food and my interest in restaurants; so the first day is jam-packed with visits to three of the top restaurants in Lima. We start with breakfast at the trendy “El Pan de la Chola” (https://www.facebook.com/pages/El-Pan-de-la-Chola/100747306661527); a lovely cafe/bakery at the super-hip neighborhood: Miraflores. The place is simple, yet cleverly done; the baked goods, including croissants, home made granola, yogurt and all the usual suspects, are made in house, in fact, you can see the bakery in full action in the back of the cafe. On weekends you will have to wait for a long time to get a table. Note to all the “Chicas”: the owner is drop dead gorgeous and apparently single.

 

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El Pan de la Chola Cafe and Bakery in Miraflores, Lima

 

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Such a beautiful presentation

 

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Breads being made fresh all day in the back of the cafe

 

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Yum

 

Now it’s time for a drive around town to see the different neighborhoods that have grown so much in the last 10 years according to Javier. Real estate is booming in Lima and you can see it all around with the construction of so many new modern buildings. Traffic is brutal, though not as bad as Mexico City. Everyone drives wherever they want and traffic laws don’t apply, in fact, no one gives a rat’s ass about them! So for the first few days I am literally clawed to the dashboard in fear for my life; eventually you just join the madness and start screaming out the window, to other drivers, to get out of the way!!! If they don’t comply, you can always point the gun at them…just kidding!

We arrive at La Heradura Beach, at the end of the Lima Bay, where the local surfers are out in force, a familiar sight for me living in California. The waves are rough and the beach is only rocks, but no one seems to mind. Then off to the controversial statue of Jesus that sits on top of a hill overlooking the entire Lima. I say controversial because it was a gift from the ex president of Peru to the city of Lima, a city that he allegedly pillaged and plundered for years; but here’s the good part, he had the Jesus made out of Plexiglas!!! Yes my dear possums…Plexiglas!!! With all the dough he stole, you would think he would commission a stone Jesus like Rio de Janeiro…the cheap troll! One the hill next to it is another cross; this one a very tall metal structure that lights up in the night, a shining beckon of the Catholic church that is, without doubt, the leading religion in Peru.

 

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La Heradura Surfer Beach

 

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The breathtaking cliffs at La Heradura Beach…and my ride!

 

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The Fiberglass Jesus overlooking Lima

 

IMG_2861The Illuminated Cross overlooking Lima

 

All right, enough crosses. It’s time for lunch! Javier chooses the best lunch restaurant in Lima: El Mercado (www.rafaelosterling.pe). The owner and chef is Rafael Osterling and he is one of the best known chefs in the country; his two top restaurants in Lima are Mercado (only open for lunch) and Rafael (only open for dinner). This guy is truly amazing; his cuisine is innovative yet true to its Peruvian origins. Mercado is all about fish, which is abundant and as fresh as it gets in Lima. Our little group of misfits: Myself, Javier, Shirley and Soli are certainly not shy about food, so within minutes, a parade of dishes arrive at the table as if I we hadn’t eaten in weeks. We start with Conchas a la Parmesana, followed by the best grilled Octopus west of Mississippi and a million other dishes. We conclude this food bonanza with homemade Churros del Mercado with Chocolate Dip, Dulce de Leche & Vanilla ice cream…COMA!

As you know, I always have to visit the local museums, but I’m even more exited today to visit our friend Mario Testino’s, MATE museum in the chic Barranco neighborhood (www.mate.pe). I’ve always been a frustrated, wanna-be photographer and photography has always been a big part of my life since I was very little, specially from fashion photographers such as Mario, Herb Ritts, Steven Klein, Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel, Avedon, Snowden, Annie Leibowitz, etc. So going to see Mario’s photo exhibit is a real treat for me. The exhibit is very small but it includes some of his best celebrity portraits and his “Claim-to-Fame” photo shoot with Princess Diana, even one of her beautiful gowns she wore is displayed in the “Diana Room”. Chic…no?

I’m pooped!!!! Back to the Maleçon for a siesta before going to another great Rafael restaurant for yet another feast…I feel like a Roman, I’ll never make it out of this country in a size 34 pants!

 

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Chef Rafael’s amazing El Mercado Restaurant in Miraflores

 

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Such an exiting and innovative menu

 

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Conchas a la Parmesana

 

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Something yummy

 

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Something with an egg…

 

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Thai style fried rice bowl

 

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Something with shrimps…I’m sorry, I forgot some of the names of these dishes

 

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Home made Churros with Chocolate dip, Dulce de Leche and Vanilla Icecream

 

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Mario Testino’s MATE museum

 

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Entrance to the restored 1930′ original building

 

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The gorgeous Kate Moss

 

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Brad baby

 

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The unforgettable Princess Diana

 

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Diana’s gown

 

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Peruvian lady in her traditional ensemble

 

Surprisingly, I am ready for the 3rd mega meal in one day; Javier and I are off to chef Rafael’s dining flagship named after him: “Rafael”, in the Miraflores neighborhood. The restaurant opens at 8PM (because they can…) and has no sign outside; it’s very reminiscing of the super trendy NYC restaurants, which, I hear, Rafael is a fan off. The interior is simple, yet cozy and welcoming with many odd “objets” around the Cuban style bar, cool art and a very subtle/chic main dining room. Javier introduces me to Rafael, who happened to stop by for a moment; I was very impressed by his charming and understated demeanor, a rarity amongst talented famous chefs…Oh no he didn’t. Of course we start the evening with Peru’s signature drink: the Pisco Sour.

A Pisco Sour is a cocktail typical of South American cuisine. The drink’s name comes from pisco, which is its base liquor, and the cocktail term sour, in reference to sour citrus juice and sweetener components.
Main alcohol: Pisco
Ingredients: 1 oz Lemon Juice, 1 Egg white, 1 1/2 oz Pisco, 3/4 oz Simple syrup
Preparation: Vigorously shake and strain contents in a cocktail shaker with ice cubes, then pour into glass and garnish with bitters.
Served: Straight up; without ice
Standard garnish: Angostura bitters
Drinkware: Old Fashioned glass

These little suckers are deliciously easy to drink, but make no mistake, they are lethal!!! After just one drink, your legs give away and after the second…well, it’s not pretty! Needless to say, I had two Piscos and forgot to take photos of all the dishes, I forgot to take photos of the interiors of the restaurant and, quite frankly, I don’t even remember how I got home…NO more Pisco for Roberto!!!

 

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The deadly Pisco Sour

 

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Rafael Restaurant’s bar…the only photo I managed to take prior to Pisco Sour obliteration