Today’s destination: Stone Town, Zanzibar

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After packing and a quick breakfast, Tina’s driver is waiting for us outside to take us to the national airport in Dar es Salaam for my short 20 minutes flight to the mystical island of Zanzibar, an ancient and historic trade center with Swahili and Islamic influences. Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. On its main island, Unguja, familiarly called Zanzibar, is Stone Town, The northern villages Nungwi and Kendwa have wide white sand beaches lined with hotels; I’ll be staying there later in the week,

Driving on the main road to the airport, you can’t help noticing the incredible amount of construction going on in Dar es Salaam, hundreds and hundreds of new buildings and skyscrapers all mixed in with the old decrepit small business and what appear like mud homes where people live in; all lining the unpaved streets bustling with thousands of street vendors and activity. The paradox between old and new Africa seems to burst trough the seams. Once we arrive to the airport we are attacked by third party travel agents that wait for the “unaware” to pounce and sell you tickets to wherever you are going (It’s always better to buy your air tickets on line through proper travel websites) . Tina and I fall immediately into the trap, but once we realized what was going on, Ms. Thing pulled out that Swiss Airlines badge, like a DEA agent in the movies, stormed through security, barged into Coastal Aviation office (the main local airline) and demanded NOT to be messed with!!! I just stood by quietly with a grin of proudness on my face until she was done and I had a super cheep ticket to Zanzibar in just under one hour…”Not that’s how it’s done in Switzerland…bitches!!!”.

 

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Check-in

 

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Of course there had to be the “Out of Africa Cafe” at the airport

 

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Simple but effective…good cappuccino and grilled ham and cheese sandwich

 

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Not much traffic today

 

Tina is not coming with me today, in fact, she has to fly back to Zurich for work but will be rejoining me in 3 days in Stone Town. So after a short wait at the “Out of Africa” Café (Imagine that…), it’s time to board this really scary, small, beaten-up bucket they call a plane! It’s a 10 seater Cessna and pretty much the only choice for traveling inside Tanzania, so I better get ahold of myself and squeeze myself through the inhumanly narrow isle to reach my inhumanly small seat behind the pilot…at least if we go down, I’ll have the best view! When you finally reach cruising altitude the fear of flying is replaced by the sheer beauty out the window of the Indian coast line, the turquoise waters and corral reefs…Just Amazing!!!

 

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This is the flying bucket that will be taking me to Zanzibar

 

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God help me…

 

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Dar es Salaam’s coat and the deserted island I had lunch at yesterday

 

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Corral reefs sufronding the island of Zanzibar

 

Before you know it we land in Zanzibar…Get me out of this plane already! Like all the other airports in Tanzania, this one too, is chaotic and no one quite knows what is gong on and where you are supposed to go, but eventually you work it out and reach the outside parking area where hundreds of drivers and Taxi men are fighting for you business. Through the mob I see a smiley, bright eyed, thin young man wearing a Moroccan white crisp clean tunic, holding a gold framed sign with “Mr. Kass” on it…a sign of relieve takes over me as I wave away: “here, here…” just like Meryl did on “Out of Africa”.

 

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And here we are!

 

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Where is mine???

 

When I was looking into which hotel to stay in Stone Town, I was reluctant to consider the newly finished and only proper 5 star hotel in the island: The Park Hyatt (www.zanzibar.park.hyatt.com). I usually try to pick local brads or independent hotels; I always feel you get a much better feel for the local culture and experience as you would by staying in the big, foreign chain. But the whole story I read about Park Hyatt buying a beachfront, 17th century mansion on the Indian ocean and restoring it to it’s formal glory in such great taste…I couldn’t resist! I picked The Park Hyatt and I’m on my way and I’m not apologetic…BTW, it’s always good to mix it up a little when you’re visiting 3rd world countries: doesn’t hurt to throw in a few “5 stars” moments in the mix, now and then. My love affair with the Park Hyatt Zanzibar starts at the entrance of the hotel…I just know! The architecture, the design and attention that went into re-storing this building is obvious the moment you arrive; beyond chic and so respectful of the integrity of the original building and it’s environment…well done! I spend the late afternoon exploring the many areas of this oceanfront stunner and even more time enjoying my brand new, super comfortable, colonial, four-post bed and all the many state of-the-art amenities this hotel offers. The temperature is stifling and probably 100% humidity, so I rather hang out in the infinity pool for the rest of the day and wait till sundown before venturing out in the small town.

 

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The stunning 17th century building that is the new Park Hyatt Hotel

 

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The elegant Arabic entrance of the Hyatt Hotel Zanzibar

 

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Stunning lobby

 

IMG_7963Sitting room


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My Ali Baba suite…so thrilled!

 

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More…

 

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Now this is a bathroom

 

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I’ll be sending lots of time here

 

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View from my room



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The hotel’s Bar

 

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The amazing infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean

 

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More…

 

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Terrace

 

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Detail

 

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The Tanzanian classic fishing boat on the horizon

 

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Sunset from my bedroom

 

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Park Hyatt

 

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Park Hyatt

 

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Park Hyatt

 

The town of Stone Town is a very complicated grid of winding narrow streets, filled with shops, art galleries, hotels, cafés, minarets, stunning carved doorways and 19th-century landmarks such as the House of Wonders, a former sultan’s palace. It’s impossible to find your way in this maze but you can only end up in two places if you get lost…and you will: the ocean or the Daranjani Market square; from where you can find your way home. Tonight I’m going to have a quick walk around at the Forodhani Gardens, the town’s main square, in front of the Old Fort, where all the locals congregate after work to eat and hang out and where all the food vendors cook up a myriad of local delights, mostly from the ocean, that they sell in the dark square lit by hundreds of gas lights.

 

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Amazing architecture

 

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One of the many roof-top Cafés in Stone Town

 

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Local children huddled around a few TV playing video games

 

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Street vendors in the Gardens of Forodhani

 

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The amazing food displays in the main square

 

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The Floating Restaurant

 

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One of the many Restaurants in Stone Town

 

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Arabesque architecture

 

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There is something so magical about hanging out in this square on the Oceanside; the energy, the smells, the people, the colors, and the foods…it’s so intoxicating! There are hundreds of scrawny little cats everywhere; I wonder how many end up on the dining table. There are so many interesting looking foods displayed on portable tables, some of which I have never seen and no shortage of sales people calling you out to try their delights; I usually don’t have any problems eating food from street vendors in any country I visit, in fact, I love doing that…that’s how you really get to experience the local fare!!!! But tonight I decide to treat myself to a delicious dinner in my hotel, in that beautiful terrace overlooking the water, with a good glass of wine, proper china and white linens. Tomorrow I will properly explore the locals’ foods and customs…. I promise!

My King fish with Curry dinner is amazing and after a few glasses of South African wine by myself, it’s time for some of that amazing bathtub action before curling up in my 4-poster-bed for a movies and much needed rest.

“Kwaheri” everyone…or good night

 

IMG_8078King fish with Curry

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Great end to a perfect day!

First day in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam

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


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Arriving at the local arts & crafts market

 

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Jewelry made with used Nespresso pods…talk about imagination!

 

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

 

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Tina posing on the Tuk Tuk

 

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In the back of the Tuk Tuk with Tina and Ferous

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Ferous on sailor duties

 

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Tina and Ferous


IMG_7823Fisherman catching our lunch

 

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

 

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View of the pristine white sand island

 

IMG_7839Arriving at the beautiful island of Mbudya


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Today’s dining room

 

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Detail on the beautiful African Palapas

 

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The island’s kitchen…and fat chefs!


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Catch of the day with French fries

 

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No silverware here…just good old fingers action

 

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Africa’s mighty Bao Bao tree

 

IMG_7930Amazing photo of me and the mighty Bao Bao African tree

 

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

 

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Exhausted and in desperate need of a siesta

 

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



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The beautifully done bar at Mediterraneo Hotel and restaurant

 

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Lounge at Mediterraneo

 

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The Swiss Airlines crew and me

 

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The delicious squid tagliatelle with lobster at Mediterraneo

 

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Nightcap at the cosy lounge on the water

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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The funicular to the Corviglia

 

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The Corviglia funicolar

 

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View from Mathis Restaurant



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Swiss star chef Reto Mathis

 

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The very exclusive Mathis Restaurant at the Corviglia


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

 

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Beautiful Zurich at night

 

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The Fraumünster church with Chagall’s famous stained windows

 

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Zurich’s famous bohemian Odeon Bar

 

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Odeon’s classic interior

 

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

 

Kalbgeschnetzeltes Zürcher Art hit Rösti recipe:

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

 

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

 

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Place setting at Zeughauskeller in Zurich

 

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

 

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

 

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

Well goodnight possums…Chüss!