• 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.

  • the wonder of the pinewood

    January 19th, 2014

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    In Istanbul it’s increasingly difficult to remember that our world isn’t comprised entirely of concrete and glass. Luckily this city has a few surprises left in store. One of which is only a few hundred meters from Haci Osman Metro station. Rough and unkept, unlike Emirgan Park or Belgrad Forest, is a large, and largely unused, pine wood. Although it’s open to the public, it’s not open to cars — although, unfortunately, it did seem to be open to the  odd motorcycle.

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    A few hundred meters from the entrance, you begin to lose sight of anything but the stands of pine. A blue sky looms overhead, and sunlight filters through the branches. Soon the city disappears, and aside from the wail of the occasional siren, you hear little more than the wind through the trees. Stray a little from the beaten paths and you’ll soon feel the soft springy carpet of pine needles underfoot. It’s then that you can occupy yourself with the important things in life — such as locating the perfect pine cone.

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  • çukurcuma colour

    May 15th, 2013

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    The cat’s expression at the top of this post says it all. It’s been a while, so I’m trying to get back in the swing of things by tramping around Çukurcuma, peering up, down, backwards and sideways as well as into windows to reignite my creative spark. Not much luck, today, I’m afraid. I’ve retreated to Holy Coffee to see if some java can reignite my curiosity. Some days you just have to trust that Istanbul is keeping her real treasures curtained for a purpose that is beyond your ken. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. That, and the day’s, not over, right?

  • 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

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    Georges Galata

    Sara Tabrizi _Executive Chef, Georges Galata

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  • şişhane sweetspot: the kamondo mansion

    February 27th, 2013

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    If I were to plan an indulgent escape for adults, without leaving the city limits, I would stay in the slightly spooky, somewhat spare restoration of the Kamondo family’s 19th Century mansion. Home to the Adahan Hotel, Comedus, Baylo and Gram, there’s something particularly louche about this street corner, especially in the evening hours.

    18:00 – 18:15 …
    check into the Adahan Hotel.

    18:15 – 19:45  …
    for your discretion. adult only content.

    19:45 – 20:05 …
    compose yourself, make yourself respectable — at least briefly.

    20:15 – 20:30 …
    go down to Comedus and stock up your room with some essentials (for later).

    20:35 – 21:00 …
    take in the view at the Adahan restaurant upstairs with an aperitif

    21:00 – 23:00 …
    enjoy some more Mediterranean delights. restrict yourself to those on the menu, for a while, anyway.

    23:00 – 02:00 …
    indulge at Baylo, a New Yorkistan style bar that knows how to make a drink.

    02:00 – 02:05 …
    stumble back upstairs to your Adahan suite room

    02:05 – 04:00 …
    this is when your supplies from Comedus will come in handy. once again, adults only.

    04:00 – 10:30 …
    get a little bit of sleep. especially before the sun rises.

    10:30 – 11:30 …
    coffee and late breakfast at Gram.

    11:30 – … ?
    get some fresh air already! some sunlight! resume the healthy living. for a while.

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  • Adahan Hotel

    February 4th, 2013

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    Today I had a chance to get a glimpse of a really interesting renovation in Beyoglu. While it might feel somewhat sparsely furnished with the cavernous ceilings, the ample light, and raw feel of the materials gives this place a real beauty. I’ve seen many Beyoglu buildings restored, but nothing quite like this. Its feel, and the amount of wood make this something special. The other feature which makes it special is the fact that its owners refused to use any concrete in the restoration process. Sedat Sırrı Aklan, who supervised the renovations, is adamantly opposed to the use of concrete on moral grounds, because it is both anti-artisan and only used for profit motives. One of the things I really appreciate is the light touch they’ve used, leaving some of the beautifully weathered surfaces exposed. Here’s a glimpse of this vastly different hotel. I’m eager to check out their rooftop eatery too which may well bear further investigation.

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  • Sometimes at Hepsi Hikaye

    January 13th, 2013

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    There’s nothing quite like a good conversation over a meal between friends. These days, however, it’s not always easy to find the time or the right venue to make such a thing happen. Restaurants can be too loud or too impersonal. Hosting at home requires you to make a serious commitment in terms of preparation and work, and can take you away from the friends you want to get close to. Fortunately, the Bebek club of ideas, Hepsi Hikaye (Everything’s a Story) is now hosting intimate, multi-course dinners on Friday and Sunday nights, dubbed “Bazen” — meaning sometimes in Turkish, and is also a combination of the two Organizers, Banu and Zeynep’s name — with a menu designed and prepared by chef Melih from Alaçati’s well loved restaurant, Agrillia. If you’re looking for an alternative to the typical night out, it’s definitely worth a look. The food Friday night —prosciutto fagioli soup, lor cheese and lentil salad, cottage pie, porcini papardelle, and beautifully prepared beef — possessed all the warmth of a home cooked meal without the burden of dishes. The wine was truly excellent too. It was a different kind of night out. One well worth having.

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    BAZEN at HEPSI HIKAYE
    +90 212 263 22 29   / +90 212 2630985

  • The stairwell refuge

    January 12th, 2013

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    In most business buildings, and many apartment blocks there’s an essential Turkish institution. Past the postboxes, across the scuffed, cracked tile floor, an illumined window, fogged with steam, behind which moves a shadowy indistinct figure. What’s brewing inside the uninitiated, non Turk might wonder? A magician in his lair? Almost. From that room, usually not much more than a metre or two square, a man or youth will emerge bearing a shiny silvery tray on which he carries an absolute Turkish necessity — piping hot, black tea accompanied by a tiny spoon and two little bricks of sugar. Outside pushed against the narrow corridor wall, a stool or two, maybe a chair with its vinyl cushion torn, exposing some yellow foam cushioning, and a table with an ashtray and stubbed out butt. This time of year, this is the cheapest refuge from Istanbul’s rain-spattered streets, where for less than 50 cents you can buy yourself a quick infusion of warmth and escape the bone-clinging chill that the wet season brings. The hallway tea room. A Turkish institution that earns its rent in 75 kuruş increments.

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  • Go Galatasaray!

    January 3rd, 2013

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    The football club bearing the above name may be having a lousy season this year, but the neighbourhood in Beyoğlu is winning hands down on several counts. I’d like to list a few ways this colourful intersection between Taksim and Tünel currently scores as the number one place I’d maroon myself in the unlikely event that I ever be forced to maroon myself somewhere. Following are four reasons to go to the Galatasaray Mahallesi right now …

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    BEST COFFEE. Let’s start with the most important drink of the day. After nearly eight years and countless kilos of bitter beans, thousands of litres of scalded milk, and several burnt lips I have finally tasted caffeinated perfection. Or the closest thing I’m going to find to it in Istanbul. Kronotrop in Galatasaray, the “Espresso Blend Atelier” wins hands-down, without a doubt, absolutely, definitely — sorry if I’m overselling this — for the best espresso and espresso drinks in town. Camera-shy Çağatay Bey’s tiny little shrine to espresso is the genuine deal. Having long fostered the suspicion that he wasn’t getting his money’s worth when he had his morning brew, the Ankara-born owner has dedicated the last couple of years to researching the art of the espresso. This isn’t just about getting the correct bean (though he’s done that with direct trade, organic coffee). It includes using the right water, sourcing farm fresh milk and treating his trade with the respect it deserves. He’s also got a nice little selection of foreign newspapers and magazines for sale. But forget those for now — this is really about the coffee. I started off with a simple, unadulterated double espresso. No sugar, no additives. It was a true delight. Not bitter, but beautifully balanced. I normally drink Americanos because I find most espressos in this city too bitter. This wasn’t the case. Then I moved on to have not one but two separate flat whites made with farm-fresh milk. And another nice feature, despite all the coffee I drank … no jitters, no palpitations, no awful acidic stomach. The only problem with Kronotrop is that it’s diminished my ability to enjoy coffee elsewhere in the city. There may be more vibrant, funkier coffee joints, but in terms of taste no can touch Mister Çağatay’s espresso. Just don’t ask him for tea or Turkish Coffee. This place is devoted to the patronage of “Coffee Snobs.”

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    BEST CHEAP LUNCH/SNACK. Next up is the best damn wrap in town. Since being featured in Anthony Bourdain’s television series, Dürümzade has become a local legend. Deservedly. This is without a doubt the best grilled sandwich maker in town. Serving up a perfectly spiced, crisply charred wrap this is easily 2013’s champion for most satisfying 5tl lunch. Just thinking about the texture, taste and aroma makes me famished. The ustalar are a really jovial bunch, which just goes to show that fame doesn’t necessarily need to go to your head.

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    BEST FOOD MARKET. In fact to avoid overspending at the most entertaining food market in the city, go to Dürümzade first. On an empty stomach you can easily burden yourself with so many groceries at the Balık Pazarı, you’ll be in danger of dislocating your shoulders. Despite its name this market isn’t just about fish, though there’s plenty of fresh daily catch on offer. Crisp produce. Exotic poultry. Pickled delights. Scary animal parts. You name it, they’ve got it. Except for Kolhrabi / Yerlahana. That I couldn’t find, much to my disappointment. Still you can’t have everything, right? Oh yeah … to the man who remarked to his friends that my sartorial style was “Italian Villager”, there are plenty of yabancı who speak Turkish, though, perhaps I’ll give you first prize for the most original of comment I wasn’t supposed to understand.

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    BEST RUMMAGE. Then there’s Aslıhan Pasajı, which juts off the Balık Pazarı, and which I covered in an early post, which is probably the best vintage book rummage in town. There are so many fascinating glimpses into 20th Century Turkey here that it’s a must see. Especially if the weather isn’t clement you can warm your fingers thumbing through the wonderful magazines and periodicals for sale here. It’s well worth a peruse.

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  • Rummaging in the past: Aslıhan Pasajı

    December 17th, 2012

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    Today was a truly miserable, wet day. On top of that, the weather was bad. Perhaps on days like this there are few better refuges than the world of books. Fortunately, I had a chance between meetings wandering through Beyoğlu to pop into this fantastic pasaj just off the Balık Pazarı. This place is crammed full of interesting books, documents, newspapers and media from another time — to such an extent that you could totally lose all sense of the here and now. A good thing, in my opinion, especially on a day like today.

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     Galatasaray, Beyoğlu/İstanbul‎  34435