• ticino: switzerland’s mediterranean

    November 9th, 2017

    Hailing from a country as vast and underpopulated as Canada, the idea of escaping the dominant cultures surrounding you in a significant way without boarding an aircraft once seemed a serious undertaking. Massive expanses of incredible nature surround you, making the absence of human culture the best option to escape your daily reality. Living in Zurich, you can hop on a train and witness dramatic changes in both landscape and culture in the time it takes for some people to commute home in a big city. Which is why I recently caught the train to Ticino canton. Just over two hours from the main Bahnof, Ticino canton is hailed as Switzerland’s Mediterranean. Given the lack of seaside, it’s most likely the fact that the primary language here is Italian, which in and of itself delivers a refreshing jolt of energy. Italian, when it smacks me upside the head, still feels like the kiss of a beautifully deranged, yet greatly inspired, angel.

    My first experience of Ticino was many years ago when staying in Cannobio on Lago Maggiore and stealing across the border to take in the Swiss side, where some of the Italian residents I was acquainted with benefited from the superior wages and benefits that Switzerland accords. This lead me to choose to stay in Locarno given it sharing the same lake. While I was mostly in and greatly enjoyed Locarno, my next foray into the “Swiss Mediterranean” will probably see me staying in Lugano, or crossing the river into Ascona. Don’t get me wrong. Locarno and Orselina (just a funicular ride up the hill from Locarno) where I stayed, are well worth the time, full of grottoes, side streets and other possibilities such as peaceful morning jaunts along the river Maggia which washes down from the encircling slopes into Lago Maggiore, which I hope to retread. But somehow, Lugano, by virtue of being a bigger centre, has that slightly more grandiose Mediterranean vibe, which I now miss from that highly improbable, very crazy reality called Istanbul. Also, since I only took a day in Lugano, there was less time for me to form a full impression. Truth is I would relish the opportunity to explore both in much greater detail. And given the relative ease with which to travel to either by train from Zurich, that seems a very likely prospect.

    If you follow this blog at all, you know I love a good boat trip. Especially those that serve adult refreshments. So with only a day to experience Lugano, I chose to hop on the first boat I could to take in the lake with which it shares a name. Lake Lugano doesn’t disappoint for scenery — with the exception of the somewhat bizarre Italian enclave of Campione D’Italia and its prominently placed casino, which I won’t share here or linger upon any longer.

    Along the route I chose to hop off at Gandria but am now longing to experience Morcote (a glimpse of which I afford you in the photo immediately above), which has apparently been voted Most Beautiful Village in Switzerland, an impressive feat considering this small country’s prodigious number of villages with storybook-worthy scenery. Gandria (all photos below this paragraph)  where I stopped for lunch, however, has some very worthy vistas. I don’t use guidebooks or over-research things on my smart phone, but rather see what feels right in the moment. Chance and curiosity are almost always better guides, and I’d rather see what other people think after I have experienced a place for myself. So, after walking not far and heeding my gut instinct I came across Locanda Gandriese which looked enticing after a cursory glance. It turns out it’s a highly recommended place. I enjoyed one of the local specialties, a Porcini ragout with polenta, but was not particularly inspired by the minestrone soup which preceded it. One of the disadvantages of travelling solo is that I tend to sample less food and go for what seems reliable rather than exciting as food is best shared with good company. Also food is not especially cheap in Switzerland so dining out is also less appealing unless you plan to linger and savour the occasion with some worthy company. So I would like to go back and see what they and the rest of Lugano have to offer, including a vibrant art scene, which has enlivened in recent years as the city diversified its appeal.

    Now, back to Lago Maggiore. The walk south, along the lake from Locarno, and up and along the river Maggia, while not necessarily efficient, provides a healthy but low impact stroll which leads you to Ascona (pictured below) a town that brings you up close and personal with Lago Maggiore. With its plane-tree-lined waterfront, glass like stillness and colourful facades, it’s easy to zone out for several hours with a measure or two of the regionally produced merlot. Here’s another suggestion: don’t opt for pizza. There’s nothing wrong with the pizzas in Ascona or in Ticino in general, which are thin crust and perfectly good and offered on just about every corner. It’s simply that they’re not prepared with the kind of gusto you’d probably get in a place like Napoli. Instead ask what the local specialties are, as I get the sense that pizzas are a case of pandering to outsiders’ expectations. Again, this may be my fault for not sufficiently researching first, but I enjoy the pizza at the Bellcafe at the Bellevue Tram station in Zurich as much, if not more than, anything I sampled in Ticino.

    Unfortunately, I was only given a few days to amble about Ticino, but it left me wanting to experience more of its vibrant landscape, abundant sunshine, and hillside wonders. Ticino is both distinctly different from the rest of Switzerland and Italy which lays just across the border, making it somewhere worthy of repeat attention.


    Which is why I say: Grazie mille, Ticino!

  • hydra … our summer’s first and last port of call

    November 1st, 2017

    As stated before, I love islands. At their best they are little capsules of bliss. On an island you accept the fact that there is a disconnection from all that mainland hustle and bustle. You’re cut off. Which is a pleasure …  and while I am happy that there are more far islands left in this grand world to discover, my current favourite is Hydra. I am not alone. Far more distinguished company have resided or worked here – Leonard Cohen, Jurgen Teller, Sofia Loren among others. We had a celebrity sighting with a Game Of Thrones star. I’ve been twice and predict a return at the next earliest date.

    Although the amphitheatre arrangement style of the architecture of the port may be overshadowed by Santorini’s iconic and relentlessly photographed scene, Hydra doesn’t lack for charm. Strict codes preserve it from crass developments and ugly architecture. This is, for my money, exactly what I hope for on a Greek island. The fact that the port-side town lacks motor vehicles or even bicycles is a huge plus. Want to lug your bag up the hill, you have two options: shoulder the burden or hire a mule who line up, truculently, each morning to assist in the unloading of various goods at the port. They might not be the happiest islanders but their toils are greatly appreciated by a snap-happy generation of instagrammers as well as seven-year-olds who delight in being given a ride to the hotel along with overstuffed suitcases which don’t easily roll along on cobblestone streets.

    Given its proximity to Athens, (1.5 hours on the Flying Dolphin, 2.5 by Flying Cat) it’s a big favourite for casual weekenders as well as the elite traveller. The full spectrum of hospitality is available. We sampled two distinctly different properties. The rather grandiosely titled, Hydrea Exclusive Hospitality (at which the first four photos of this post were taken), located on the western edge of the harbour, is a magnificent perch, everything a romance seeker could expect style-wise from a design hotel. We also stayed at Miranda, an old captain’s mansion, which has its own old-world charm and much less “exclusive” prices, and where our welcome included another ubiquitous four-legged islander: a white and ginger street cat, we very creatively dubbed, Ginger. Hydra probably has the friendliest and most well cared for population of cats we have encountered so far, also much to the delight of the seven-year-old set.

    In terms of quality food and drink, you don’t have to wander far. Good, honest fare abounds. Side streets, in particular, offer a host of family owned and operated options. Eat whatever is featured on the daily menu. Fresh produce and other close-to-source ingredients make such dishes sing. Also sweet, sun-kissed tomato sauce with a hint of cloves make dishes such as rooster in sauce, or meat balls and sauce a daily craving. A side of fresh cut potatoes never hurts either.

    The most difficult question of the day is where to dip ourselves into the Aegean. There are fantastic places arrayed cliff-side to drink, take in the sun and plunge into Poseidon’s blessed pool. Yet some mornings the wind picks up and forebodes the need for a sheltered cove, in which case there are also beaches, usually requiring a 20-30 minute stroll, or a shuttle boat – if you don’t feel the need to exert yourself. When we wanted a beach our preferred choice was the Four Seasons (not the chain), which also comes highly recommended as a boutique hotel. It’s about 45 minutes on foot but the westerly walk features plenty of scenic places to stop and enjoy a refreshment or two. If speed is of the essence, there’s a regular shuttle boat every 30 minutes. While we can’t attest to the suites — having not stayed there — the food and the cheerful staff constantly deliver. Personally, I prefer to remain closer to the harbour, and so, from 10:00 AM most mornings, our favourite was the cliff-side, Spilia (pictured two frames above), where the super-friendly and talented bartender-barista, basketball aficionado Aggelos (pictured immediately above), hosted us with such natural good grace we almost felt like locals.

    As the sun moves westward, we almost always find ourselves at Hydronetta (shots 1, 3, 4 , 5 below) which means mermaid, for aperitifs. Just around the point from Spilia, the sunsets are a thing of legend. And despite some occasionally melodramatic playlists, we never felt the need to break with tradition. The sheltered cove was perfect for a dip on all but one evening where only yours truly felt comfortable venturing for a swim.

    After nightfall and a good dinner at somewhere like Kryfo Limani (Secret Port) or Pardosiako (Traditional) there’s always time for a digestif or two at Amalour, or you can head back to the port and enjoy a perennial favourite, Pirate Bar. But the music is really good at Amalour (immediately below) so don’t rush. In terms of atmosphere, the western portside Papagalos (Parrot), right below Hydrea E.H., is also good place to zone out next the gently bobbing yachts.

    While the season is now over for most of our preferred haunts, we’ll be kept warm with memories of a summer bookended by Hydra’s eternal magic. Thank Poseidon for the welcome tide that brings you ashore on Hydra. We now look forward to our return.

  • paradise street

    July 17th, 2017

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    In the pauses, a trill. Birdsong? A sound almost forgotten. The bus, the trams, always on time, and clean, but sometimes a meandering path home in late afternoon leads to new discoveries. There’s no hurry. A detour here and there makes life more interesting. Houses on hills. A church with a drinking fountain. Here and there are pastures, a scattering of chickens, even a cow idle on the slopes. Bees buzzing away in wildflowers. Only five minutes before, the high street. Where is this place? It is as if someone has wiped everything, even the pavements, clean. A sign that reads, Paradise Street. Crazy… it might just be right. In any case, it’s the road that leads home.

  • High Summer – Atolyia

    October 3rd, 2015

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    Summer, when it passes, leaves a certain hazy vagueness. A pleasurable dream reluctantly relinquished. The way the sun warms your limbs. The blueness behind your eyelids as you stretch laze beneath the sun. Some places in the world, they’re about to drift back into that dreamy state. Just before summer disappeared here in Istanbul, I was fortunate enough to complete an assignment for my client, Atolyia, as Kurban Bayram, approached. Hopping on and off a sailboat around the Islands shooting beautiful women in pestemals and beach wraps is not a bad way to spend a few days. Here’s a glimpse of some of the highlights.

    All styling by the inimitable Selin Sönmez-Tokgozlu.

  • pide project

    January 22nd, 2015

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    Today I finally get to share something with you that I’ve wanted to share for a while. One of the reasons my posting has been so spotty of late is that I have been busy working on an interesting new project for BABAJI PIDE, a new venture by famed London restaurateur, Alan Yau, which places pide centre stage while celebrating the many pleasures of Turkish cuisine.

    Working with Simon Johnson from THAT Magazine, we’ve been creating content for the new website, which just launched and you can view here. I’m pleased to say that I’ve done all the original photography for the site so far as well as a bit of writing too.

    A high point in the work so far was getting to shoot with Ayse Dilek from FOOD PROJECT, who shared this recipe which you can make at home. So as a bonus today, I’m including the extremely delicious pide recipe she shared to make at home and tide you over until you can drop in on BABAJI PIDE on Shaftesbury Road in Soho. Here it is:


    MOZZARELLA, COTTAGE CHEESE, SEMI-HOT PEPPER PIDE 

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    INGREDIENTS (Makes 5 pides)

    PIDE DOUGH:

    500 grams flour
    12.5 grams olive oil
    10gr granulated sugar
    12.5 gr salt
    1 grams fresh yeast
    300ml water

    TOPPINGS:

    625 grams mozzarella / Turkish string cheese (if available)
    375 grams cottage cheese / Turkish Çökelek (if available)
    25 small pickled semi-hot peppers

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    DIRECTIONS:

    Add fresh yeast to warm water (slightly warmer than lukewarm) and wait until it dissolves, set aside.

    Combine flour, olive oil, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Make a trough in the centre and add the yeast mixture. Using your hands knead the dough together until it is smooth and consistent. Cover with a damp tea towel and allow to rise for minimum 1 hour.

    Preheat oven to 180C.

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    Divide the dough into five equal pieces. Using a thin rolling pin, shape each portion into an oval.

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    Place ovals onto an oven tray. Distribute the toppings equally among the ovals.

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    Drizzle with olive oil and bake for approximately 10 min or until the pide dough is golden and crisp at the edges.

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    Serve with some fat dollops of Balkan style yoghurt and roughly chopped fresh mint & parsley … afiyet olsun! And drop me a line if you try the recipe at home, please. I’d love to know what you think.

  • kronotrop

    November 11th, 2014

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    I have a confession to make. Wait … I have two confessions to make. One, I have neglected the blog a bit lately and for that I am genuinely sorry, so I hope today’s post helps rectify my shabby behaviour. Two, I have an addiction.

    My addiction led to wanton coffee consumption all across Istanbul. Worse, not all of that coffee was virtuous. To be honest, much of it was downright awful. You see, I did not know the origin of my espressos and lattes. And, yes, I am ashamed. Fortunately, a little over two years ago, I met a coffee snob who helped reform me. I am a new man, thanks to Çagatay Gülabioğlu. In coffee, once more, I trust.

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    Thanks to Çagatay’s high standards, he drew the attention of Mr Mehmet Gürs, top chef and the founder of Istanbul Food and Beverage Group, who has since become involved as a patron of coffee excellence. My own personal stake in this story is that I have had the pleasure of doing a couple of photo shoots with the new Kronotrop gang, both at their Cihangir shop location and their roastery, and truly enjoyed myself witnessing the processes involved to brew a worthy cup.

    Perhaps to some coffee seems like a rather mundane affair, but in all seriousness, I really like to explore the processes and the degree of attention which the people who work together to bring me — and, I hope, you too — a much better cup of coffee. Think of all the different people a single cup of coffee connects. It’s the attention to detail and the eagerness to share a better experience which I can relate to and inspires me in my work.

    Above and below are some of the keepers and outtakes from the shoots.

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  • blueness II: oriental blue

    October 12th, 2014

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    Pomegranates. Steaming tulip shaped glasses of tea. Walnuts and wood fires. And, most importantly, good company. Blue may be a theme this October, but there’s no reason not to pair it up with a little warmth, right?

  • cansu & baskın

    April 15th, 2014

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    Don’t know about you, but I like a good party. However the party of parties is a wedding, so I have to say I like a good wedding even more. Today I thought I’d  reminisce about my favourite assignment of 2013: Cansu & Baskin’s Wedding. Like all the best jobs it was an opportunity to collaborate with some great talent, including a true friend and a great visual storyteller, Ahmet Polat — I certainly wouldn’t have been comfortable attempting to tell this grand a story without him. Over 400 guests! So let it be known that his shots feature prominently in this collection. Now that you know who I documented the event with, let’s introduce you to our two leads in this grand love story, the bride, Cansu, and the groom, Baskin.

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    Nice couple, no? If only every assignment found me working with such a fun pair. Not surprisingly, their family and friends were a class act and a spirited group of individuals too. When shooting a wedding, I like to include lots of the back story. It’s not simply about the poses, the set ups and I do moments. It’s as much about all the work and all the dear friends that brought two such worthy people together. That’s why it’s really important to document these moments in the lead up since they fly by so swiftly on the day itself. Read More…

  • standout work style

    May 31st, 2013

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    These are just a few of the people who stood out over the last little while. People who inspired me with their professionalism. It’s not what they wear to work but the way they work their personal style, making hard work look all the more rewarding. I’d like to buy you all a nice cold beer.

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  • a measure of yellow. a measure of blue.

    May 28th, 2013

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    You’re the colour of renewal, of life. As the sun leeches the blue out of you, you succumb to a sickly, yellowish tinge. But while you’re at your best, vibrant and deep, you’re flexible, beautiful, strong and limber, fresh and true. Stay good. Stay green.

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