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!!!

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


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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!

 

 

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

 

First day of skiing…God help me!

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Waking up in St. Moritz is truly a dream; especially in my beautiful, comfortable and spacious suite at The Kempinski Hotel (www.kempinski.com/en/st-moritz/grand-hotel-des-bains/welcome) that my childhood friend and Hotel GM Reto Stockenius has arranged for me. Looking out the window and seeing the enchanting town with the Swiss Alps as a backdrop is medicine to your soul and puts you immediately in the best mood possible. I guess I have the same connection and awe with the mountains as other people have with the ocean back in California; the shear size, presence and overwhelming beauty, takes over you and you are suddenly part of the miracle that is NATURE!

St. Moritz is an alpine resort town in the Engadin, a valley in Switzerland. Twice a host of the Winter Olympics, St. Moritz is mostly know for its jet set and aristocrat clientele that has been part of the fabric of this town since its inception. Winter in St. Moritz is as good as it gets, and the infrastructure is second to none: great skiing, amazing hotels and restaurants, sassy night clubs and more glamour than you can handle! A mecca for billionaires, celebrities, royals and sports figure, St. Moritz always seems to deliver with flying colors!

 

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My fabulous suite at The Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains

 

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My sitting room

 

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View from my window

 

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View from my window

 

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The stunning 19 century facade of the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains

 

Today is my first day skiing in 6 years since I broke my shoulder in Whistler, Canada, when an 18 year old drunken hooligan, ran me over with a snow mobile!!!! Yes…a snow mobile, that threw me up in the air 15 feet to land on my shoulder; I passed out on impact and woke up in the emergency room of the local hospital with my deranged friends laughing at me…equally as drunk as the criminal that ran me over!!!! That was my dear friend Jeff Bartlett’s bachelor party, so it’s not a surprise that multiple injuries, to multiple people happened during the trip.

So back to St. Moritz; today I will ski after 6 years and I’m really exited and nervous at the same time…I don’t want to brake anything else!!!!! The fact that I am soooo out of shape now will not help either. So it’s me and my brother Jonathan off to the slopes today at a comfortable 8 degrees weather; if I don’t brake my neck, I’ll probably freeze to death anyway…no positive outcome here! Surprisingly, the day goes really well, the weather is amazing, not a cloud in the ski, the snow is fluffy and dry and I just got back into the swing of things like a champ! The best part is realizing that I’m a better skier than my little brother…HAHAHAHAHA!!!! Brotherly competition never dies…

 

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Amazing Coffee Shop on the slopes

 

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Ready and gorgeous…

 

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Corviglia sceenery

 

IMG_7587A very happy Robert ready for lunch

 

After 3 hours of skiing, I can’t feel my legs or body for that matter, so it’s time for my favorite pastime on the mountains: Gluhwein…and lunch!!!! Gluhwein is the equivalent of Mulled Wine in the US and a staple in the European mountain resorts to keep warm (at least that’s the excuse we use). Jonathan and I stop at one of our favorite mountain eateries for lunch, or more specifically, the Swiss staple: Bratwurst with Rösti and mustard. It’s amazing to me how the simplest little things in life make me soooo happy; I don’t need a Bentley or a Hermes leather Jacket…give me a Bratwurst or cheese fondue and I’m truly fulfilled…literally!



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The outdoor bar at the Alpina Hütte

 

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Alpina Hütte’s amazing terrace overlooking the Swiss Alps

 

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Menu

 

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A swiss mountain classic: Bratwurst with Rösti

 

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My little brother Jonathan Kass

 

After a great lunch on the terrace of the Alpina Hütte (www.alpinahuette.ch) looking at the Swiss mountain range, both myself and Jonathan decide that we had enough for the first day and that it’s time for a nice walk around St. Moritz and a hot chocolate at the legendary Hanselmann Bakery (www.hanselmann.ch), a staple in St. Moritz and a must after a long day of skiing. Once back at the hotel we go for yet more indulgence with an hour of SPA action at the Kempinski. Now I am literally paralyzed with exhaustion…I need a serious disco nap before dinner.


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Classic Engiadina style architecture

 

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The iconic Chesa Veglia restaurant, also part of the Palace Hotel

 

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One of Switzerland’s most famous bakeries and a St. Moritz institution: Hanselmann


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The beautiful Laurent Perrier ice bar for the après-ski Bolli

 

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Hanselmann Bakery at dusk


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View from my suite at dusk

 

IMG_7597View from my suite at dusk with full moon

 

Tonight I’m having dinner with 3 of my oldest friends in the world: Reto and Simona Stockenius and Fabrizio Malfanti, whom I’ve known since I was 3 years old along with my brother Jonathan Kass. It’s not often these days that you can sit at a dinner table with people you love so much and have known for all your life. Catching up over a period of 40 years is no small feat and will require multiple bottles of amazing Swiss wine to do the job. We are eating at the fairly new Dal Mulin Restaurant (www.dalmulin.ch), which I picked on the Internet because of its stellar reviews; all the other top restaurants were just way too expensive for my little “Jet setting on a dime” wallet. Expensive in Switzerland is NOT the same as the US; “expensive” in St. Moritz is $300-400 per person without an expensive wine; so I’m hoping this more reasonable eatery with great reviews, will impress us, for we all are pretty demanding customers!

As expected, dinner goes on for hours and laughter is in abundance, in fact, we close the place down after midnight. Dinner is really good; the boys share a massive Stinco di Vitello, cooked to perfection, while the rest seem very happy with their dishes. Reto picks a Swiss Charbertin red wine that is truly out-of-this-world for a medium priced wine.

 

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Tonight’s restaurant choice

 

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The very Swiss warm and cozy dining room at Dal Mulin

 

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Our round table at Dal Mulin



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Steak Tartare at Dal Mulin

 

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Stinco di Vitello al forno



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Amazing local wine that Reto Stockenius picked for us

 

We are all so tired now but as they say: “No rest for the wicked”…one more stop before hitting my very comfortable bed. Reto and Simona want us to see one of the hottest bars in St. Mortiz, where their kids usually hang out when in town. Contrary to all the other hot night spots in St. Mortiz like The King’s Club at the Palace Hotel or Dracula at the Kulm Hotel that are ûber exclusive, super expensive and difficult to get in; Baracca is an old barn where poor workers used to gather after work for some cheap booze. Now, of course, it’s no such place; though it’s still the old barn, it’s now a favorite with the young ones visiting St. Moritz. It’s loud and packed to the tilt and people often end up dancing on tables to the same old European favorite tunes like the Gypsy King and yes…Crystal Water’s “She’s homeless”! We last just about 30 minutes before we all realize that we are a little to old to hang with the kiddies, so we finally head back to the Kempisnki and hit the sack!!!!

Good night from heaven…or as the locals call it: The top of the world!!!

 

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The infamous Baracca restaurant and bar

 

labaracca_20150201_212025The very simple interior of Baracca



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My brother Jonathan Kass with my gorgeous childhood friend Simona Stockenius

 

 

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!!!

 

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

 

Switzerland-Spain-Turkey, Summer 2012

Just days after my BIG 40ish birthday celebration at one of my favorite restaurants in the world: CUT in Beverly Hills (wolfgangpuck.com), hosted by my longtime BFF, Gelila Puck; I’m embarking on a month long trip through 3 different countries and over 10 cities. First leg of the trip is LA to Zurich. Every time I fly to Switzerland there is only one choice of airline: Swiss Airlines (swiss.com)! Not only it has one of the few direct flights to Zurich, but it is also, by far, one of my favorite airlines in the world.

Just like everything else in Switzerland, this airline runs like a well-oiled machine: perfect service, great planes, incredibly friendly & efficient, good food, great movie selections, etc. When booking my flight this time around, Swiss was asking for way too many miles for a first class ticket, so I choose to fly Business class, which is almost as impressive as “first”. Seats go down to a flat bed position and if you don’t mind having your feet imprisoned in a small hole between the seats in the row in front of you, you are just fine (I’m quite fidgety, so I felt a little contrived).

A great tool I always use when looking for the best seat on any given plane and airline, is seatplans.com. Just type in the flight number and airline and this super-handy site will give you the lowdown you need to make the right choice. Just as important, is knowing how to get the most out of your miles; for that I sometimes use: thepointguy.com; It’s a jungle out there with all the different travel awards, restrictions, penalties, special offers. etc; you really need a hand in sifting through all of it! If you do your homework, you really can fly a better cabin class, better airline, fewer lay-overs for less mileage than you would spend without doing your due diligence.  Of course the best option is having your own personal travel agent who already knows all the secrets and shortcuts and that for a reasonable fee, can make miracles for you: I have a few amazing ones I can suggest if anyone needs one!

 

 

Business class seats

 

My travel routine to Europe is always the same: Since you always leave in the evening from LA to Europe, I look forward to a delicious dinner with an unusually high number of glasses of wine, 2 movies (I start with an action movie followed by a “sappy” one once the wine kicks in), topped by 1 “horse dose” sleeping pill and before you know it, I’m waking up just minutes before landing in Zurich, with a cappuccino, a fresh croissant…and yes, a Swiss chocolate!

 

Switzerland

Zurich:

Going through passport control and luggage claim at  Klöten Airport, or any Swiss airport for that matter, is always “easy, breezy”and pain free! The Swiss extraordinary organizational skills are evident in every aspect of this country’s infrastructure; why can’t the rest of the world learn from these people???

My childhood friend Bertrand, with whom I stay when visiting Zurich, is waiting for me at arrivals and after the usual hugs & 3…yes 3 kisses on the cheek (that’s how it’s done in Switzerland: “when in Rome…”) we leave for his gorgeous penthouse apartment in one of the nicest areas in central Zurich: Bellevue.

This apartment is stunning! If you survive the 3 stories climb up the stairs with 2 suitcases weighing in at over 90Lb each (no elevator in this turn of the century building); you will eventually marvel at the magnificent view of all of Zurich from the massive terrace. I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather stay…though a lake-view-room at the Baur au Lac would also do…or the Storchen Hotel…or the Dolder…all right, enough!

 

Limmatquai

 

 Other side…

 

Statue of a Swiss sausage on the Banhoffstrasse…don’t ask.

 

Zurich is a magnificent city and the most vibrant in Switzerland; Any culture who places a 6 ft. tall Veal Sausage sculpture in their main shopping street, has a place in my heart!!!! I’ll be talking a lot about Switzerland in my blog, not only because I’m from this beautiful country, but I also use it as a hub every time I come to Europe for it’s close proximity to all major European cities, while giving me the opportunity to do a quick visit with my family in Lugano.

This time around I’m in Zurich looking for locations for a new restaurant & bar I’m working on (which we will talk about at another time), so the majority of days will be spent with my real estate agent/friend Darko (Croatian? Hummm…); and the evenings, well…they will be spent doing whatever people do in the evenings in Zurich! In my case, Darko was kind enough to take me to 10…yes ladies & gentlemen, 10 clubs and bars around the city till 6AM! Needless to say, I don’t remember much of what happened that night nor do I want to!

Thankfully, the day after, my friend Bertrand, who knows me like the back of his hand, brings it up a few notches and surprises me by taking me, along with his beautiful girlfriend Claudia, to my favorite restaurants in Zurich: Kronenhalle (kronenhalle.com). Indeed an institution for almost 100 years, serving up local specialties in one of the chicest restaurants in Europe! Dining in these early 20th century rooms with mahogany paneled walls and white marble tables with legs designed by Diego Giacometti, one can only marvel at its renowned art collection by Picasso, Klee, Kandinsky, Chagall and Miro just to name a few (I heard a lot of the collection got sold over the yearts…sigh!).

Personally, since I’ve been coming here with my dad since I was a kid, I can’t wait to dive into my favorite dish in Zurich: Zürcher Geschnetzeltes!!! Ahhhhhh, words cannot describe this sinful veal dish with mushrooms and lots and lots of cream and butter, served with the Swiss version of “hash brown”: Rösti. Add a lovely Tignanello (one of my favorite Italian wines from the Antinori family in Tuscany), a deliciously crunchy Bürli (a classic Zurich bread roll), an apple sorbet with Calvados to finish up…et voilà…COMA!

Great food, great company, great history, chic atmosphere and impeccable service make this landmark a once in a lifetime “must”! Just remember that this place is not cheap (not that anything is in Switzerland). You might have to take out a small loan to dine here, unless of course you are very rich in which case you will also be seated in the main dining room and not in one of the other, more “pedestrian” rooms in the building.

 

Entrance

Main Dining Room

 

Zurcher Geschnetzeltes

 

Bürli

 

Zürcher Geschnetzeltes Recipe

Ingredients:

1 onion

1 ½ cup mushrooms

1 lb. 4 oz. veal (from the leg)

flour

¼ cup butter

1 glass of white wine

6 oz. heavy cream

salt & black pepper

chopped parsley

Preparation:

Cut veal into bite size thin slices, then turn them lightly in flour. Peel and chop onions, clean and slice mushrooms. Heat butter in a skillet and sear meat quickly and remove from skillet, keep warm. Fry onion until transparent then add mushrooms. Pour in wine and cream and quickly heat before adding the veal. Add salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with parsley and serve with Swiss Rösti.

Enjoy!

 

Rösti Recipe

Ingredients:

2lb potatoes

1 onion

salt

olive oil

Preparation:

Cook potatoes in their skins until tender. Rinse them with cold water, then peel and grate them coarsely. Peel onion, chop it finely Add olive oil into skillet, then add potatoes and press them down to form a cake. Fry until golden brown and crunchy then turn and fry other side. Serve.

 

Clearly, I spend the next morning at the very trendy Silhouette Gym in Bellevue, just above Globus (the Swiss Macy’s) with the most beautiful view of the lake, running on a treadmill in the effort of burning some of the 15,000 calories I had the night before.

After a few days looking at restaurant locations, it’s time to leave for Barcelona and embark (literally) on a one-week boat adventure in the Spanish Mediterranean, with one of my dearest friends, James Moore.

One cannot leave Zurich without a visit at my beloved Sprüngli (sprungli.com) on the Bahnhofstrasse for a cappuccino and 2 fresh Gipfeli (the Swiss version of croissants): I’ve been going to Sprüngli for as long as I can remember; it is a Swiss staple of quality and tradition and by far the best “Confiserie” in the world since 1836!!!!!

 

Sprüngli on the Banhoffstrasse

 

 

 

Spain

Barcelona:

Every time I arrive in Barcelona, I’m always baffled by the shear size of that terminal…it’s just enormous!!! After walking what seemed to be 5 miles to the baggage claim, I grab my scaled down, yacht size, Luis Vuitton suitcase and get into a car for the 20 minute ride into Barcelona. .

“Barcelona has always been at the cusp of the country’s creativity with pioneers such as Catalan chef Ferran Adrià (Restaurant El Bulli), who has had a profound effect on the world’s restaurant culture, much as Salvador Dalí did with art and Antoni Gaudí with architecture. And while Picasso wasn’t Catalan, he considered Barcelona his spiritual home and his artistic muse. Indeed, the very urban fabric of Barcelona is deliriously vital: grand with medieval design, playful with impish street art and ablaze with Modernista colors and furbelows”

After a quick lunch at Los Caracoles (www.loscaracoles.es), established in 1835; one of my mom & dad’s favorite hangouts in Barcelona in the 60’ and 70’, where they serve the most delicious snails (I know…not too popular in the US) and Spanish tapas; I must go to my favorite square in Barcelona: Plaça Reial for a coffee and people watching.

Plaça Reial 

 

Gaudi’s influence on this palm tree-lined plaza extends no further than the lampposts, but with hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and outdoor cafes maintaining a constant buzz, day and night; it’s a great place to visit, specially if you are trying to escape from the hustle of Barcelona’s most famous tourist trap: Las Ramblas. After getting lost several times at the Barrio Gotico (the old quarter), a 14th century maze of tiny houses, stately palaces and funky shops, we make way to the port and onto the “Vessel”, as my good friend Matthew Mellon calls them.

Main Dining Room

Bar with hanging Jamon Iberico 

 

The most amazing wood burning, 18 century stove, still used to date

 

Jamon Iberico aging from the ceiling

 

I settle into my lovely stateroom, unpack: arranging all my shirts and pants in equal distance between each hanger, arrange all my toiletries in linear formation on the glass bathroom counter (yes, I have a problem…), quickly breeze through the Ship’s safety booklet (no worries, I watched Titanic a million times; I know what to do: have plenty of cash in your pocket at all times…) after which, I make my way up to the main deck for a welcoming bottle of champagne and a “plotting” session over the week to come with James.

James and I are great travel companions; we seem to like all the same things, most of which, the thrill of travel and a genuine curiosity towards all that is “good living”. Additionally, my hyperactive, “slightly” eccentric personality seems well meshed with his cool and collected New England demeanor; he’s extremely witty and together we are a lethal combination…not to be meddled with!!!!!

 

Marbella:

First stop is Marbella; not one of my favorites cities, though I have some of my dearest friends who live here. My dad and my step-mother had a summer home in Marbella in the 70’ and all I remember is the scary nanny who would chase me around the house with a knife (…just kidding; was it a gun?) and being left at the pool with my brothers & sisters at the Marbella Club (www.marbellaclub.com) for hours on end while dad & Joan pollinated around the hotel with the beautiful people “du jour”.

Through the years I returned to Marbella several times and I will admit, I had lots of fun dancing to the wee hours at Olivia’s or yacht hopping during the day from one mega yacht to the other (they all seem to have one), or doing what people in Marbella do best…socializing and dressing up!

This time we are here for only 5 hours during lunch time, so the only thing we can squeeze in is Nikki beach! Perfect place to go for a beach & sun filled afternoon; chaise lounging on the sand, gorging on the “famous” Sushi Boat, feasting on Mediterranean oiled-up beauties and dancing the day away to the latest Euro sounds!!!! Nikki Beach is always a sure thing if you are looking for a party environment and beach beauties! After a lovely lunch and a great visit with my old friend Ahmed Ashmawe, I am back on the boat and off to “Sodom & Gomorrah” AKA Ibiza!!!

 

Trumpet Player at Nikki Beach

 

Nikki Beach

 

Ibiza:

Next stop, the infamous island of Ibiza! I swore I would never come back here after my last trip 8 years ago, where I got stuck at Amnesia Club till 11am, up to my chin in bubbles, in a room of 15,000 people high on ecstasy, grabbing everything in site…including my bits!

In truth, Ibiza is really beautiful place and has definitely secured the spot for “Most fun” place in the universe…hands down!!! Of course it all depends on what kind of fun you are looking for, but in Ibiza you can have it all: absolute madness or shear beauty and peace. I’ve done both many times and I find myself gravitating more towards private villas with good friends and lazy days on the beach or on the boat, rather that 24 hour marathons at Pacha, Space or Amnesia…age perhaps?

After arriving at the port, my little group of friends decided to have a stroll through the old town followed by dinner at Olivo, just inside the Castle walls. I just never get tired of those beautiful cobble stone streets and that Balearic architecture that is so typical of the Spanish Islands. After dinner we did the usual “tour de force” of, what seemed, every bar in town, until the inevitable…what club to go too!!!

I was happy to retire to my room and be fresh as a “Rosa” the following day so I could enjoy the many daytime wonders Ibiza has to offer. Unfortunately the evening took a different turn and around 2am, after protesting vigorously, I was dragged against my will, kicking and screaming, to Space (www.spaceibiza.com) where I was sworn that I would be staying only for a few drinks!

9am…I’m walking out of Space after dancing uninterrupted for 7 hours to what seemed to be the best music I have ever heard in my life!!!! No drugs ladies & gentlemen, just a dozen cocktails and good shoes…this old battleship can still give those kids a run for their money!!!!!

After a refreshing 3 hour sleep, I drag myself out of bed, slip into a bathing suit (maybe “slip” is a bit of wishful thinking…more like “stuff myself”), hide the bloodshot eyes behind extra large YSL glasses and join the rest of the group at Las Salinas Beach.

“Las Salinas is another of Ibiza’s beaches that has become rather popular with the very wealthy and the very beautiful. If you’re having a fat day then it’s probably not a good idea to go to Las Salinas as most of the beach’s occupants will be strutting around wearing as little as possible and showing off as much as they can. By way of example, the beach is particularly popular with footballers and footballers wives – not an option then if you haven’t fake-tanned yourself orange or achieved that golden Ibiza glow yet”.

Usually I prefer hanging out in the little island of Formentera during the day, which you can only reach by boat, and lunch at the fab Juan y Andrea Restaurant, but this year we opted for something more accessible: that is before we found out it takes 2 hours to find a taxi to take us back from the beach into town.

Lunch at El Chiringuito (www.elchiringuitoibiza.com), right on the beach, is truly amazing: the Jamón Ibérico, flambéed mussels and the grilled squid is to die for; pair that with a ice cold glass of Sangria and you’re off to a good start!  All the gorgeous, tanned bodied Spaniards in their skimpy swimsuits and larger than life personalities give this joint my seal of approval!!

 

El Chiringuito Restaurant, Playa Las Salinas

 

After lunch it’s off to the beach for that golden Ibiza tan. Unfortunately, seeing how we are seated just 30 ft. away from the neighboring “Nudist” beach, what was supposed to be a relaxing time has now become an extremely distracting time! I’m all for self expression and natural living; but why…I ask? Why it is always the oldest, fattest, un-trimmed, dirty, most visually unattractive people that choose to bear it all at these nudist beaches???? I mean, there is not one, slightly pleasing human being ever to be found in these places; I guess I come form a generation with a clear, un-spoken rule: “If Mr. Gravity hasn’t been to kind…cover it up!!!!”.

By 7pm it was time to head back to the boat for our overnight journey to Valencia, land of Paella!

 

Valencia:

I wake up to the sound of sirens (no, not the ones living in the ocean…) and realized we have arrived in the bustling port of Valencia. Valencia is a beautiful city with lots to see, but if you have just a day like I have, than the choices are clear: the Cathedral with it’s famous treasure: the “alleged” Holy Grail, believed to be the cup from which Jesus drank from at the last supper; the Miguelete octagonal bell tower that we so idiotically decided to climb all the way to the top, gasping for air while risking our lives on the super narrow & crammed, marble stairway that leads to the roof top (seemed like 5000 steps), and the “Mercado Central”, the 1928 covered market is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe and is a good place to walk around and pick up some food while experiencing the local culture. The market is full of stands run by local vendors and the foods are usually produced nearby; finally…Paella!!!

Of course Valencia offers much more than that, but our half-day visit allowed for just these options!

 

Mercado Central

 

Paella Valenciana

 

Being the “Gourmand” that I am, I was not getting back on that boat without having my Paella; thankfully, when it comes to food, James is always on board and as exited as I am; the rest…who cares!

We ask the locals for the best Paella joint in town, and the same name comes up over and over (always ask the locals where to eat unless you already know; most guides will send you to all the tourist traps), La Marcelina. We had to wait till it opened at 2pm, that is when everything shuts down for lunch till 4pm (bless the Europeans who still value a 2 hour lunch and siesta much more than making more money by staying open those few extra hours). The place was extremely charming and so typical of Valencia; the paella however, did not impress me at all: good but not fantastic! My mom’s paella is still the best I have ever had; I think she learned how to make it in Menorca, the third of the 3 Baleare Islands in Spain, where we had a summerhouse for many years during my youth. Even so, I am glad I got to have my Paella, buy my Spanish hot Paprika at the market and work out my calves on the buggery octagonal tower we climbed just before lunch. After an afternoon walking around town in scorching 110-degree temperature, we finally make our way back to the vessel to start our voyage back to Barcelona for the last leg of this trip.

 

Barcelona:

At last back to where we started from; just enough time to go for a bite at the fabulous market: Mercado de la Boqueria (they sure know how to display their stuff in this extraordinary market) and off to the airport to catch a plane back to Switzerland.

 

Mercado de la Boqueria

 

Mercado de la Boqueria

 

Switzerland

It’s time to go to Lugano, the Swiss jewel on a lake in the Italian part of Switzerland, where I was born and raised and where most of my family still lives. I will be working here for 10 days re-designing my brother’s restaurant, Etnic Café (www.etnic.ch), for it’s 15 year anniversary.

Once you land in Zurich, there are several choices of transportation to go from Zurich to Lugano: the super clean & efficient Swiss train is probably the best choice; however I decide to take the two and a half hour drive, in my friend Bertrand’s 1978 Mercedes Benz SL convertible…talk about “retro”!

Almost 40 years later this roadster is still an amazing ride (sounds just like me…), except the failing seat springs that barely lift you up enough to see out the window!

Driving through the most beautiful countryside on earth is an overwhelming experience; one beautiful lake, green hill after the other, bridges so tall that one wonders how they were built, the world famous Swiss cows with their glamorous bells around their neck, and, oh yes, the venerable and majestic Swiss Alps!

In the summer one might drive through one of the few mountain passes that zigzag to the top of the alps and back down on the other side: beyond amazing!!!

Been there, done that to many times; I choose the Gotthard tunnel, a 10.2 miles tunnel right through the Alps, that links the German part of Switzerland to the Italian. Once the longest tunnel in the world; today it also serves as a bunker for the entire Swiss population in case of nuclear holocaust…how about that for planning ahead?

 

Lugano:

I arrive in Lugano around 9pm, just in time to drop off my suitcases at my brother Jonathan’s home, kiss my 3 beautiful nephews, and off to the center “Piazza” where the “Lugano Jazz festival” is in full swing; one of several festivals in Ticino (the Italian part of Switzerland) during the summer, attracting a vast array of talents from Jazz to vocal to pop and rock. Just 30 minutes away in Locarno, Elton John and Lenny Kravitz were performing a week later. When I arrived at my friend’s Guido’s front row table, as one does; Macy Grey, who’s a friend and client of mine, was performing on stage dressed as a Christmas tree. By the time “Chic” (talk about memories) got on stage after midnight, and 10 “Aperol Spritz” later (see recepe below…), I was dancing on tables to the sound of: “Le Freak” and “Dance, Dance, Dance” (BTW, dancing on tables? Not considered appropriate behavior in Lugano…). Funny enough, when Chic came to the world for the first time, I was dancing to their tunes in Lugano, where I was living at the time, barely 10 years of age…talk about full circle!

 

Piazza Riforma

 

Macy Grey performing on stage

 

I spent the rest of this trip in Lugano working at my brother’s restaurant Etnic in the center of town, that I am redesigning for it’s 15 year anniversary. This project started several months ago and we are just finishing up all the final installations before the Grand Opening in a week’s time.

Getting work done in Lugano is quite a challenge: you see, everyone is rich, including the electrician, the wood worker, the painter, and the plumber…nothing wrong with that! However, trying to get them to actually commit to working on your project within a reasonable time and price is close to impossible! I’ve designed and constructed a dozen restaurant/bars in Los Angeles and never, I mean never, have I run into a situation when the construction workers got to pick when they would have time for you and your project, not to mention the price tag these jobs came in for. It takes great patience, cleaver manipulation and old friendship’s help to get my project finished by the deadline. One thing is sure about Swiss workmanship…it’s second to none…if you can get it!

One of my favorite things to do in Lugano, is dining at a “Grotto”. One of the best kept secrets of the Italian part of Switzerland, a Grotto is a summer, make shift restaurant, run from a small home, or farm house, that opens only during summer, in most cases, and serves up local delicacies such as freshly cut salami, luganiga, prosciutto, soft cheese from the Valle di Muggio, or hard cheese from the upper Ticinese Alps, along with rabbit and my favorite: brasato al Barolo with polenta nostrana (braised beef with Barolo wine and rustic polenta). These restaurants are mainly in the woods or local mountains, or on the lakeside only reachable by boat; and dining is mostly outside on long stone tables and stone benches under centuries-old linden trees. It was a family favorite each summer growing up in Lugano and it is a treat I wish for everyone to experience at least once in a lifetime!

 

Classic Grotto exterior

 

Classic Grotto outdoor seating

 

Classic Grotto interior

 

Grotto specialties: Carne Secca, Salame Nostrano, Lardo, Pancetta, Formaggini, etc…

 

This time around I went with my childhood friends: Fabrizio and Gigi, and his beautiful wife Barbara, to a grotto on the lake Lugano, just passed the Swiss border in Porlezza, Italy: Crotto del Lago. It has a beautiful open terrace right on the lake; usually we would get there on Gigi’s boat, but he was concerned with the weather forecast predicting some evening rain, so we go by car. Not too long after sitting at our table around 8PM, I began noticing the sky getting very dark, very quickly. Half way into reading the menu, all hell brakes loose and a storm, the likes of Armageddon, unleashes it’s fury onto the beautiful, flowered, white linen and fully booked terrace with rain the size of walnuts and hurricane winds. Quickly, the owner and his helpers rolled down the terrace awning to protect the diners, but the wind was so fierce that not only it blew the awning off it’s hedges but everything else, including, napkins, table cloths, chairs, bread sticks and hair pieces started flying across the terrace like projectiles. It was pandemonium!!!!

I love this sort of disaster scenarios so I am having the time of my life feasting on the spectacle of it all. I even fight with the owner to allow us to stay outside for dinner once the rain subsided a little; sadly we are forced inside with the rest of the soggy patrons. Dinner takes for ever to come, since they had to set up the entire indoor dining room; but it’s well worth it and absolutely delicious! Even though my new Tom Ford blazer gets soaked and shrinks 2 sizes; I have the best time…ever!!!

The day of the Anniversary Party finally arrives and it is a huge success; my older brother David, the sweetest of the three brothers, does an amazing job organizing the whole event, with incredible hors d’oeuvres from all around the world (most of which from my mom’s recipes) mixed in with great music and…ohh yes: a gorgeous new interior design!!! Believe me, Luganese people are not easily pleased, but this night they are having the time of their life!

The event brings out all sorts of old faces from my past, most of which I am so happy to see and re-connect with; though some are definitely best left in the past.

Earlier in the day I was doing my daily gym workout at the stunning Principe Leopoldo Hotel, leopoldohotel.com (where the GM Reto, with whom I went to school with, so kindly let’s me use) when I suddenly slipped off the bench and fell on my right knee; nothing to it…got right up and continued my workout. Later in the evening, just before leaving to the opening party, I noticed bruising on my knee, but once again, I paid no attention! Well, not even 1 hour after arriving to the party my knee starts to hurt really bad; I just keep drinking more Aperol Sprits and pop aspirins like Tic Tac’s to numb the pain but finally, around 11pm, not only I can no longer walk, but the pain is so excruciating that I have no choice but to go to the emergency room! I lived in Switzerland 21 years and never ended up at  an emergency room!!!!

My poor brother Jonathan has to leave his own party to drive me to the hospital and literally carry me, in head to toe Givenchy, through the hospital’s parking lot and into the emergency room. Now, emergency rooms in Switzerland are like the lobby at the Four Season Hotel “sans” Jeff Letham’s floral arrangements, and they are never crowded: I guess people are healthy and carful in Switzerland, what can I say! Sure enough there are only 2 people in front of me, but, as my luck would have it, the guy in front of me is definately  a few fries short of a happy meal (must have been a foreigner…) and held up the line for what seemed hours. I don’t know if it was the anger or the Aperol Sprits or the intense boredom, but after 1 hour waiting for this fruitcake to stop talking to the receptionist, the pain is subsiding and before I know it I can walk again. I have to convince my reluctant brother that I am, in fact, feeling much better and finally make our way back home (reminder: go to doctor and check knee when back in LA).

The morning after, hung over and disheveled and still limping, I drive myself to Zurich airport and after a huge fight at the Swiss Airlines counter with an evil faux-blonde woman who is trying to make me pay $200 for a few pounds of excess baggage (that’s what happens when you fly private too often…you loose prospective: “What do you mean I have to pay for 100lb of excess luggage?”); Helas, I’m on a plane to Istanbul, Turkey, for the next leg of my trip and $200 poorer!

 

Turkey

Istanbul:

I’ve been going to Turkey every year for over 20 years; it is by far one of my favorite places in the world! I’ve been fighting un up hill battle for years convincing my western friends to discover this amazing country and all of it’s beauty, most of their reluctantcy was based on a old classic movie from the 70’: “Midnight Express”, where Turkey is portrayed as an unsafe, lawless, utterly scary place, where no Americans should go to, specially if you’re planning to smuggle drugs out of the country…doesn’t that apply to most countries?

Thankfully, the west has caught on, and for the last 10 years you can finally see plenty of westerners enjoying this magical country. That, of course, also comes with the arrival of all “American”: Hyatt’s, Holliday Inns, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and so forth.

My main reason for visiting Turkey is to spend time with one of my “families” I have around the world; a family with whom I have been very close for many years and that I lovingly call Mom and Daddy. This trip is no different; I’ll be spending a few days in the south of Turkey on daddy’s boat and then another few days in Istanbul, before flying back to Los Angeles. Now, traveling with my Turkish family gives Jet Setting a whole new meaning: I arrive in Istanbul International Airport where I am met by daddy’s “greater”, who looks like “Fester” from the Adam’s family. He assists all of his guests with going through the visa & immigration process, luggage and into the awaiting car.  Believe me, it’s a real treat considering the alternative is waiting in line for a visa for 2-3 hours in the sweltering heat!

A helicopter is waiting for me to fly me to the private airport where the family is awaiting on the jet for the short flight to the South of Turkey. Joining us on this weekend trip is the Puck family: The Über-Super-Duper Chef Wolfgang Puck, his stunning Ethiopian wife Gelila and their 2 “super models in the making” sons. The Pucks are very dear to me and have been part of my life for a long time; I consider them too, one of my few “families” I’ve adopted around the world, outside of my own.

The flight to Gocek is only about 1 hour and once there, a caravan of vans takes us to the port where our captains are awaiting for our arrival.

 

My luggage on it’s way to the Heli

 

Our ride

 

Never travel without your chef…

 

Göcek:

Göcek has long been a desirable destination for both Turkish and foreign yachtsmen, as well as a favorite stopover for jet-setters and celebrities alike. Named ‘Kalimche’ in ancient times, this small town is one of the Lycian settlements found between Caunos (Dalyan) and Telmessos (Fethiye). It is not just world-class yachting that makes Göcek a special place; it is the way the culture and natural surroundings blend in such a serene way. Strict development laws ensure that this very unique setting is protected; and since there is no oversupply of hotels, it is never crowded”. Needless to say, if you don’t have a boat…you are out of luck! There is very little activity in the main land, especially when compared to it’s neighbor to the South, Bodrum, a bustling beach resort, offering everything and anything to the non-yachter.

Once at the port, 2 dinghies are waiting to bring both families and little ‘old me, to their respective boat. The Pucks are staying on on a classic Turkish “Gulet”, that you can rent for a reasonable price (compared to a classic yacht), to sail the Turkish sea’s with a full staff, catering to all your needs (make sure you do your homework when picking a Gulet, for some of them are pretty ugly and un-kept and others are simply gorgeous).

I’m staying on daddy’s “Über Yacht”, an Italian made Benetti with the most wonderful staff in the Mediterranean. Service on a private yacht is indeed an experience of it’s own; it makes a 5 star hotel look like a youth hostel! The attention to details you get on these boats is truly amazing: from unpacking all your stuff, to laudering, to knowing your eating habits, likes & dislikes, having drinks available to you at all times before you even think of asking, day or night, to assisting you with all water activities or anything else you might need. A staff member seems to always be just around the corner, ready to help you with anything you might need. It is customary in the yacht “protocol” to tip the staff when you leave the boat: a simple envelope with some cash and a thank you note, left in your room to their attention will suffice (if you’re planning to leave $20…don’t bother…just run!).

 

Daddy’s boat

 

Lounging on the top deck overlooking Göcek

 

After sailing off to one of the many spectacular natural lagoons that Gocek is so famous for, the next three days are jammed packed with water activities for all the children and adults alike: Jet skiing, canoeing, water skiing, doughnut rides, banana rides…you name it! It is important that you remain active while yachting, for it is common to over eat on boats and unless you balance your food intake with lots of water activities, you’ll be wobbling off that boat looking like “Jabba the Hutt”.

One of the highlights of the weekend was going to the turtle sanctuary in Iztuzu Beach, where we watched and fed live shrimps to the endangered and protected Caretta turtles; I’ve never seen sea turtles and I felt like a kid again. They are truly spectacular creatures…I’m signing up with WWF!

Sadly, it’s time to leave this paradise and jet back to Istanbul.

 

Istanbul:

As I mentioned earlier, Istanbul is one of my favorite cities in the world; I have so much to share about this citiy, but I will write a whole chapter on this city later on my Blog. This time around, it’s a short stay with much of my time spent in my 2 favorite places: The Grand Bazaar, and at my Turkish family’s gorgeous Yali, a term used for these very rare, old Ottoman homes on the Bosphorus dating back to the 18th century.

 

A stunning example of a Ottoman Yali on the Bosphorus

 

My “Room with a view” 

 

A big surprise this trip was dinner at a new Steak House: Nusr-Et. Turkey is not known for it’s beef and yet, this place has an amazing array of meats that are grilled and cut at your table. The owner personally served us all his specialties at the table and allowed Wolfgang to go in the kitchen and pick the cuts of meat that we would eat for dinner. Though this eatery will feed you until you are ready to kneel over, don’t leave without having the Baklava…it is life changing! The highlight of the evening in this rich-red meat-menu-ed restaurant, was discovering a defibrillator mounted “Ohh so casually” on the wall, just out-side the men’s room!!! Hey…don’t knock it; might seem a little uncouth, but in a 3rd world country, if I have a heart attack, I rather have a defibrillator handy in the men’s room than waiting for the ambulance to arrive!!!

 

Best Baklava in the world

 

Being stupid by the defibrillator…

 

Next day: Grand Bazaar…Woohoo! “The irrepressible hubbub of the Grand Bazaar is key to its appeal and much of that bustle is from its determined shopkeepers luring customers. Standing out front of each of the stores is at least one salesman—never women—whose job it is to get you inside to look at his wares and have a chance to perform. Haggling for a better price is an essential and expected part of the buying and selling that goes on in the Grand Bazaar. Nothing has price tags, after all, so everything is up for negotiation. Just remember that they have been doing this for thousand of years so don’t get to frustrated if you find out you paid more than your friend for the same item at a few shops down. But the experience itself is really fun and manic. First they need to get your attention above the constant din; they routinely try English first, followed by German. Persistent rather than pushy, it’s all remarkably good-natured, and often inventive. Mostly, it’s variations on the usual: “My friend, would you like to look at my shop?” or “it’s my turn to try to sell you something,” but every now and then there’s a more creative approach. In our wanderings we heard: “are you a tourist? or a terrorist?”, “the shortcut is through my shop,” “sir, you want to spend some money? Yes, make the lady happy,” and even a nonsensical “shish kebab” (it was a clothes store). And, of course, flattery is a staple. You can’t accuse them of not trying”.

I am looking for Turkish lanters for my brother’s Restaurant in Lugano, some Turkish cotton towels (the best in the world) and a few vintage “Suzani” for a friend. Suzani is a type of embroidered and decorative tribal textile made in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries, they usually have a cotton (sometimes silk) fabric base, which is embroidered in silk or cotton thread. Suzanis were traditionally made by Central Asian brides as part of their dowry, and were presented to the groom on the wedding day. I discovered Suzani’s over 20 years ago at the Grand Bazaar, and no one had ever seen anything like it anywhere else; today, you can find this unique design reproduced just about anywhere, including Pottery Barn…Sigh!

 

Antique Suzani at the Grand Bazaar

 

Turkish lanterns at the Grand Bazaar

 

Grand Bazaar

 

Great Turkish towel shop by the Old Bazaar

 

Through the years I have found so many amazing and unique items at the bazaar that I’ve brought back to the US and used in my home at the restaurants I designed. It is truly an indoor magical kingdom with thousands and thousands of shops; you have to have the time and the patience to sift through all the “crap”, readily available for tourists, to find the good stuff; and believe me…you will!

After just 3 days in Istanbul. It is time to fly back to LA and get back to what I do: selling houses!!! BTW, if you need a house in LA…call me!!!