Jetting to the South of Turkey for a week of “Yachting”, on a dime…of course!

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Good morning everyone!!!! I’m so ready for a little boat action in the beautiful South of Turkey (actually, more like a big boat action). After the waterfront breakfast ritual…this time with the house pet: the totally “Bonkers” Lillie the Kitty, who today decided to join me for breakfast…more specifically, decided to wrap herself around my neck, like a Stole. One last scrambled eggs with Sukuk (the lethal Turkish sausage) and it’s time to pack…BTW I have no idea who’s cigarettes are those by my side…bad kitty! By late morning a caravan of sedans with myself, Raphael and Nibbles’ family make way to the airport for the fairly short flight to the South of Turkey, specifically: Göcek. Göcek is a stunning ocean village that has not yet suffered the claws of tourism and over development, as it’s neighbor Bodrum has. The natural layout of islands and coves in this large and secluded bay makes it a perfect place for the yacht set. Furthermore, in 1988, Göcek was declared a Registered Area of Special Protection, so multi-story buildings are not allowed, this has literally killed all plans to over-build and develop, making it renowned as a much more peaceful and exclusive settlement than some other tourism areas.

 

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Last Turkish breakfast on the Bosphorus…with Lillie the Kitty

 

After a delightful flight on a Falcon 900 private jet, we arrive in Dalamal Airport and into a new caravan for our final destination. At the marina, our dingy is waiting for us to take us to our fabulous yacht where we will be spending the next week, cruising up and down the Turkish coast and across the Mediterranean to a few Greek Islands. At the boat, the fabulous staff, lead by the charismatic head steward Paolo, greets us with cocktails and nibbles; It’s really hot in Göcek and both Raffi and I can’t wait to get in the water. After settling in our guest suites we all meet on the deck for more drinks and to visit with our dear friend Burçak, who is herself, on her boat a few bays away. I’ve known Burçak for many years and it’s always such a pleasure to see her and her husband Selim. One of the features of these Yacht populated micro systems, is that you make friends with neighboring yachts and before you now it, you become part of this exclusive posse; you are going from party to party, to dinner to dinner, cocktail to cocktail…all on yachts of course. If you suffer of seasickness…well, then you should consider another glamorous form of transportation. The thing about yacht life is that there are only three things to do: eat, drink and, for the more industrious: water activities. I happen to enjoy all three equally, so after a few welcoming cocktails, a few local raw nuts and 3 glasses of Ornellaia, I’m jumping in!!!!!

 

 

IMG_4722Boarding the Falcon 900 for our trip to Göcek

 

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Someone is very tired…

 

The water is warm and crystal clear and the view of the untouched, natural plush landscape is riveting; after a few Esther Williams laps around the boat, it’s time for toys! This boat happens to have all the toys a kid or a immature, adult as I am, could hope for; it’s Disneyland on the water and between me, Raffi and Nibbles’ kids, it’s a never ending race on who can out due the other. I’m into the new See-Bob, a submergible that propels you under water like a submarine; all you have to do is press a button and hold on for dear life and this thing will drag you under water for as long as you can stand it. There is a lot of seawater drinking at the beginning until you get the hang of it. Raffi, on the other hand, is going for Fly-boarding, a very popular contraption that you wear on your feet and with the help of an altered jet sky; it will lift you out of the water through water jets. Last time I tried this I fell on my face 23 times until I finally raised from the waters like a water angel…so I’ll tackle that tomorrow. Nibbles opts for a good old classic waterskiing session behind a very powerful See-Doo. After swallowing half the bay of Gocek behind my See-bob, I decide to go back and have a Leonardo moment: “King of the world” at the front of the boat before joining the rest of the gang for cocktail hour #3.

 

 

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The Russians have arrived. They always have the biggest boats…Hummm

 

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Grandma’s spectacular 1920′ steamer yacht

 

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The head steward on the boat, the lovely Paolo

 

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The beautiful Burçak Sayilgan with Robert Kass

 

IMG_4896A very traditional Turkish snack: raw almonds and walnuts on ice

 

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Jesus juice…Ornellaia

 

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The Canadian getting psiched-up for “Fly boarding”

 

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And he’s up…


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Robert Kass channeling Leonardo di Caprio

 

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This one never takes a bad photo…we will call her “Cover girl”

 

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“Cover girl” mono-skying in Göçek

 

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Raphael Tessier enjoying the warm waters of the Mediterranean

 

One of the many unique things about Gocek is their amazing restaurants on the sea that you can only reach by boat; tonight we are going to one of my favorites that specializes in Mediterranean foods who’s name escapes me…I know, ridiculous! I spent 1 hour on the internet looking for the name of this restaurant but that’s how exclusive it is…You can’t find it!!! You can only get here by boat and the food is fresh and delicious with the usual Turkish specialties and my favorite: Linguini with fresh lobster. There is not a sound around you but the restaurant activities, the water is now flat as a mirror and there is this sense of peace that i can’t describe. Looking out form out special table on the sand, you can see the many little green islands disappearing into the night and the silhouettes of the yachts anchored for the night. It’s time to go back to the boat for a late movie on the top deck under the stars and Paolo’s bed-e-buys nightcap before I hit the bed: Grappa and black cherries…when in Rome!

 

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Arriving at one of my favorite restaurants on the beach

 

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Our table…right on the water

 

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“Cover girl” strikes again

 

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The charming “Al fresco” dining

 

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Dusk in Göçek



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Our floating home at Dusk

 

IMG_4842 Paolo’s idea of a night cap: black cherries and Grappa

 

Yacht life is exhausting!!! I know…shoot me!



A welcomed “Slaggy” day and an amazing dinner party on the Bosphorus under a full moon

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Sightseeing in Istanbul is an endless proposition; there are so many amazing sights to see that you just can’t do it all in one trip. Loree and Cher are doing just that today, with a guide and the Manchurian assassins in toe; but today I’m choosing laziness over culture, massages over large crowds and pool life over mosques. It goes without saying that I have done all the sightseeing in Istanbul many, many times through the years, so I feel OK with taking the day off. My own Nibbles is the best companion for such lazy days, we both truly appreciate the art of “Slagging” and do so with such grace and meaning. But nothing happens in Turkey before the usual, amazing Turkish breakfast served on the terrace on the waterfront; it is by far one of my favorite traditions in the world…not to mention, fattening!

Today’s highlight is a massage session with Olga, the hefty, scary looking Russian lady who looked so much like a KGB agent than a massage therapist. The moment she lays her hands on me, I realize this will NOT be a relaxing hour. She’s a powerhouse of a woman with hands so strong, I am literally in tears from the pain she’s inflicting on me. All along she keeps telling me of all the many physical shortcomings she’s discovering in my pathetic body, immediately followed by a brutal painful solution that has me screaming even louder. Clearly, she is adamant on informing me of all the many areas in my body where I apparently collect excessive water, or excessive fat, or stress knots, or lactic acid! I feel like just hanging myself and calling it a day! Having said this, it is probably one of the best massages I have ever had in my life and once I get over the excruciating pain, my body feels brand new and ready for a BIG nap! I don’t think I ever cried so much during a massage session.

 
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The classic Turkish breakfast (Borrowed Image)

 

IMG_3150Sucuk (Turkish Sausage), peeled tomatoes and fried Eggs…amazing!!! (Borrowed Image)

 

The day goes by in no time and before you know it, it’s time to get ready for a real treat: dinner on the Berrak Instanbul III, cruising up and down the Bosphorus. After the obligatory cocktail time by the pool at 9PM, we are off to the Four Season to pick up the “Diva” Gang for our last night in Istanbul; tomorrow we are off to the South of Turkey for a “Yachting” week around the Mediterranean. We cross the waters and arrive at the Four Season Hotel to pick up the girls; Cher is now surrounded by fans and hotel staff trying to get a photo with her. Tonight we also have the pleasure of having a few more very special friends joining us, among which the dashing Omer Karajan and his mate Alasdair Dundas, Endar, the Turkish beauty Ozlem Onal, Gabriella and date and the one and only “General K”. Once the whole lot is aboard, we start with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the top deck of the elegant, Berrack Istanbul III: a 19th century handmade, teak boat complete with white suited waiters helping you with all your needs.

 

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The Barrack Istanbul III arriving to pick us up

 

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Docking at The Four Season Hotel

 

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Another view of our boat

 

The backdrop for the entire evening is the magical city of Istanbul’s panorama as you can only experience from the water, with all its monuments, palaces, bridges and sheer beauty. Besides a few rough moments when the wind picks up and glasses, nut trays, hats and wigs are flying around the deck and into the Bosphorus; cocktail time is a great opportunity to catch up with my dear friend Ozlem Onal, who is one of the most ridiculously beautiful creatures I have ever met; on top of that, she’s incredibly bright and so, so sassy and naughty…right up my alley! Another favorite of mine is Omer Karajan and Alasdair Dundas, the chicest and most fun couple in the continent, one a native of Turkey and the other an English man; I’ve know both for almost 30 years and believe me, it’s never a dull moment with these two. After a few hours of serious pollinating, it’s time to go to the lower deck terrace for dinner; tonight’s menu is all Turkish specialties, mainly fresh fish dishes caught in the morning. There must be 15 different dishes on this incredible buffet; I recognize several of them, but I’m definitely not afraid of trying all the new food so beautifully displayed in front of me. Turkish cuisine is largely the heritage of Ottoman cuisine, which can be described as a fusion of Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan cuisines. The focus is on vegetables and fish, which is readily available in large quantity in the country.

 

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The Gang boarding

 

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Nibbles and Omer Karajan

 

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Raphael Tessier and Ozlem Onal

 

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View of the Royal Palace from the boat

 

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The Ciragan Palace

 

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Istanbul’s bridge at dusk

 

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Loree Rodkin and Gabriella with the Palace behind them

 

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The delightful Endar and friend

 

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The most beautiful girl in the world: my Nibbles

 

At the dinner table I have Raphael on one side and Cher on the other and there is no lack of laughter here; Cher is on a roll tonight and Raphael is bursting of happiness from all this new stuff he’s experiencing, so far from his home in Montreal. The evening goes one for hours and hours, though it seemed like just minutes; finally it’s time to take the girls back to the hotel and for all of us to retire for a goods night sleep…tomorrow it’s off to Göçek in the South of Turkey.

 

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Some of the many Turkish delights offered for dinner (Borrowed Image)

 

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Grilled fish (Borrowed Image)

 

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Turkish fish stew (Borrowed Image)

 

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The medieval castle on the Bosphorus

 

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The stunning Mosque on the Bosphorus

 

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Another Mosque


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The military academy

 

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A very happy Robert Kass with his two besties: Loree Rodkin and Nibbles

 

This is one of those moments where you really feel so lucky; not only for the obvious privilege of being able to experience such amazing places, cultures and traditions but most of all, realizing how much love and friendship you have all around you, something that is more valuable than any possession in the world. Tonight magic is once again, thanks to the kindness and generosity of our hosts Mr. and Mrs. K.

Thank you, I love you so much!!!!!

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

 

IMG_4539Nibbles, the “dashing” Omer Karajan and Paulette Howell