• 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.

  • serdar-ı ekrem sokak

    March 26th, 2013

    Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak

    When I first moved to Istanbul I rented a flat in the Galata neighbourhood which was scruffy but interesting area on the city map. Later, like a lot of Beyoglu, it became a bit disillusioning. As we all know, economic progress doesn’t necessarily benefit a neighbourhood’s character or hospitality. Especially when the new businesses and residents decide to do a sad or cynical interpretation of someone else’s culture for the benefit of non-residents. So it became easy to give the Galata neighbourhood a miss without missing anything at all. However Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak seems to have undergone a mostly positive transformation, comfortably mixing old and new and featuring design businesses and small boutiques which draw on the local culture and architecture as much for the benefit of Turks — at least so it seems from the people sitting in the street-side cafés and coffee joints — as for outsiders. Change is an inevitable consequence of urban life just like human life. Fortunately it’s not all for the worst with businesses like Georges Galata, which in my opinion has the ultimate night time supper terrace, summer or winter, as well as Sntrl Dükkan and Mavra, which provide good street-side perches to people watch in the company of your friends and neighbours while sipping a glass of wine. On this Sokak, at least, it feels good to be back in Galata again.

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    Sntrl Dükkan

    Sntrl Dükkan

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    Georges Galata

    Sara Tabrizi _Executive Chef, Georges Galata

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  • Osman Usta: the Master beneath the mosque

    January 25th, 2013

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    I don’t know about you, but I like a well made shoe. In fact, I prefer a pair. These days, however, it seems you have to go to Italy or Spain to find a good handcrafted shoemaker … or so I thought. Skeptical? I was too. Despite a tip from my friend, Metin — a man of substance and style —I learned about a fine shoemaker in my own backyard. Much to my amazement, beneath Yeni Camii (New Mosque) in Yeniköy, there is, in fact, an artisan shoemaker. He is also turning out some extremely stylish men’s boots in supple leather and silky soft suede, and has been doing so for no less than about 50 years. To my embarrassment, I walked by his shop for almost two-and-a-half years without a second glance. Perhaps it’s because it seems like a relatively modest storefront and workshop. Let this be a lesson to me to be more attentive. Osman Usta has clients from as far afield as England, France, Argentina, Spain. Now the term usta (master) is somewhat overused in Turkey as it can refer to anyone from the guy slicing slivers of döner off the spit, to a second-rate carpenter, or to a man like Osman. In this case, however, the title is well earned. While I sipped a tea I had the pleasure of watching him work. It’s truly something to behold. I will definitely be seeking him out the next time I look for a new pair of suede or lea footwear. In fact, I can hardly wait to put in an order for some shoes from the Master beneath the mosque.

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    OSMAN USTA
    Küçüktepe Sokak No. 15, Yeniköy, Istanbul +90 212 262 3760

  • The Epiphany

    January 6th, 2013

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    Today was not a warm day for a stroll beside the Bosporus and no one with any sense was dressed in anything less than full headgear and warm winter clothes. Then again — for some there is a strong sense of faith in both community and tradition. Today is a special day for Turkey’s Orthodox Community, who marked the date of the Epiphany, or the revelation of God to the Gentiles through the form of the Christ. Into the Bosporus jumped four brave souls on the most blustery cold day of the season. We were expecting snow today, so you had to be brave to leap from the shelter of a boat to the warmth of a waiting terry cloth bathrobe. Nevertheless some young men from the Orthodox community did just that to mark this important date on the calendar. Once again, I’m grateful to have witnessed one of the many different traditions from an important cornerstone community in Turkey’s rich history.

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  • Happy Holidays

    December 27th, 2012

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    Well here we are again, in the midst of yet  another holiday season. How do the years slip away so effortlessly? One of the best things about being a parent is rediscovering the magic of this holiday through someone else’s eyes. For me, Christmas still has some magic, but it’s best spent on the young, rather than trying to recreate the illusions you had when you were a child. It’s even somewhat weird to be the guardian of a tradition you have such mixed feelings about, and  yet, despite the doubts and the stress, it’s more than just the atmosphere. There’s something to it. Perhaps Like a magic trick, you’re better off not deconstructing it, and rather letting it be. I hope you find your magic this season.

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  • Istanbullu III

    November 5th, 2012

    A few years ago my friend Selin was in Milano, Italy for the furniture fair, but took regular breaks to indulge her nicotine urge. An Italian man who observed her said, “You’re smoking like the Grande Turco!” To which she replied, with a laugh, “I am a Turk!” Do Turks smoke considerably more than many other cultures? I don’t know. While I don’t endorse smoking in any way, this is still very much a smoker’s city. Despite being pushed to the pavements, despite the ever increasing size of the warnings on their packets, Istanbullu are pretty resolute when it comes to puffing.

  • Spilling into the street: café culture in Istanbul

    October 23rd, 2012

    I recently composed a half page piece for the Globe & Mail, one of Canada’s national broadsheets regarding Istanbul’s café culture, and my pick for the best coffee joint in the city. It was nice to see they used my photography as well. I must say I had a great time researching the piece, as drinking coffee and people-watching seems to be one of favorite pastimes. They didn’t edit or alter much of what I submitted. I had hoped to include a link to their website, but the piece has only appeared in print. To read the full text please follow the link below the article picture.

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