Author Archives: Gayle Kabaker

Rooftop Dining – New Soho House

LondonSohoHouse

Rooftop Dining – New Soho House

London’s Soho House recently opened its new house on Dean Street and, even though it has an early closing limitation because of the neighbors – yes people actually do live in Soho – it’s a little bit of a jewel in the ever-so-crowded craziness of a Soho evening.  It has a small rooftop bar, along with its Greek Street counterpart and the notoriously fun Shoreditch house. It seems like Soho House is heading for rooftop views all over London. Despite the weather it’s kind of cool to look above the chimney tops of London and get a Mary Poppins view of both Old London and the scintillating New London popping up towards the East. Soho House is a private members’ only club and a genuine respite from the madding crowds in post-theater West End. If you happen to know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who can take you in there, it’s a great place to hang out. If you don’t know anyone, oh well…

Looking for a special roof outside of London? Other memorable rooftop bars I’ve visited:

  1. Plaza Santa Ana Melia Hotel Rooftop Bar in Madrid (http://www.melia.com/en/hotels/spain/madrid/me-madrid-reina-victoria/the-roof.html),
  2. Berlin Soho House (https://www.sohohouseberlin.com/en/house)
  3. Shoreditch House London (https://www.shoreditchhouse.com/house/rooftop-restaurant)
  4. NuTeras in Istanbul  http://www.nuteras.com.tr/,
  5. Les Deli – Cieux in Paris http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d3346801-Reviews-Deli_Cieux-Paris_Ile_de_France.html
Gulet Sailing

Gulet Sailing through Aegean Seas

Gulet Sailing through Aegean Seas

If you find yourself traveling to Southwestern Turkey then there is a good chance that you’ll be taking or at least you’ll be tempted to take a Gulet charter boat http://www.admiral-tours.com Most of the great charter companies are based in either Bodrum or Marmaris and the Gulet boat, which varies in size from 14 to 35 meters, is an ideal vessel to sail the calm waters of the Aegean. All of these boats have sails, typically two-masted, but most of them poodle around the coast on engine power alone. They have a huge back seating and dining area with lavish bedroom space underneath. In the height of the summer months, the harbors of Antalya, Marmaris and Bodrum are full of these types of vessels. Originally much smaller and designed for fishing, they evolved to meet the rise of tourism in the 70s. They are a lot cheaper than renting a boat in Greece and so ideally if you wish to stay away from the crowds, then an itinerary that starts in Bodrum and skips over to the tiny airport-less islands in Greece is optimal.

Gulet

Gulet

For those of us who’ve managed to sail throughout the Greek Islands and along the Turkish coast, there is nothing quite like entering the port of a beautiful horseshoe harbor at night. It is both magical and mystical. My favorite Greek Island…well that would be giving the game away, but I would say that Symi and Sifnos come to mind and of course there’s always Mykonos for a good party. Recommended tips on Greek Island navigation is to plonk yourself down in a place like Symi, grab a small hotel room and rent a small Zodiac speedboat for a couple of weeks. Every day take that boat, cruise around the island, find a deserted spot or a deserted beach, or a tiny restaurant on a deserted beach (yes, they do exist!) and just pretend that this is the way life is forever. And every evening eat in one of the many restaurants that are dotted around the harbor. I don’t care how many times you’ve had grilled octopus and a Greek salad, it never tires…unless you’re a vegetarian. Best time to go and cheapest rates, mid-September through mid-October. The weather is still amazing and the crowds have decidedly dimmed.

Turkish Air

 

Turkish Air (www.turkishairlines.com) seems to have appeared out of…well, out of thin air. They now fly non-stop from many North American cities and in my case they offered non-stop service from Boston to Istanbul. The transatlantic flight has brilliant service and a premium class that is as good, if not better than most of its European counterparts. Though still not a part of the European Union, Turkish Air won Europe’s Best Airline from Skytrax Passanger’s Choice Awards for the past 4 years. And if you happen to be passing through they even offer a free city tour, called, Touristanbul (http://www.istanbulinhours.com/)for passengers with a 6-hour layover. Great name, great idea!

Turkish Air

If you’re staying in country, chances are you’re going to be taking a lot of short flights to Antalya, Cappadocia, etc… The fact is that there is no train system and the distances are substantial. Even though the buses are fantastic, with bus attendants and food served, it’s just cheaper and more efficient to use Turkish Air. On the short haul flights the service is fantastic; you actually get something to eat on a one-hour flight and the flight attendants are actually nice – yet another reason to travel to this country.

 

Turkish Arrival

It is at once an exotic place, a border country between Asia and Europe which has this veneer of Euro sophistication, spotty in places, but reassuringly there. Istanbul’s airport is actually quite a welcoming place. A fairly modern arrival terminal that has pretty much all the stuff that Boston’s terminal E seems to lack (shops, restaurants, Starbucks – anything that would make your journey more pleasant). The only hold up is the visa processing, which is done ahead of time yet still tacks on a couple of minutes to each passenger’s stamp of approval. I avoided the long lines by grabbing a fast track pass. Even though they should not have given it to me, the British Airways’ staff seemed quite accommodating, dishing them out like nobody’s business. Thank goodness, otherwise the line would’ve been a bit of a nightmare.

The drive from the airport into the center of town takes around 30 minutes, depending on traffic. And traffic indeed, is the first thing that awaits you in this mega-city of around 14 million people. It is the usual mess of airport sprawl that greets the traveler until at some point you have this sense of the city; the Bosphorus in the background, the great Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and suddenly you’re in. One of my great wishes transferring from airports into town is to somehow whisk past all the ugliness and surface in the city itself. I guess I’d call that the London Underground and the Piccadilly line – where are they when you want them?

This place is so steeped in history and diversions you can feel it oozing from the buildings around you. This is after all Constantine’s capital, the first move towards Christendom and the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire. This was the center of the power of the Ottomans that stretched into the 20th Century. This is modern day Turkey, profoundly changed by its prophet Atatürk, and to this day a secular political institution with deep Islamic roots. Imagine this, it is bordered by Syria, Iraq, Iran, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Armenia. It practically touches the Greek Islands of Kos and Rhodes. It is economically more prosperous than many European countries, and is a key ally to the US. Its economy is booming and we need it to boom, we need it to prosper. It makes our world a safer place. My favorite hotels to stay at would be the Four Seasons Hotel, formerly the infamous Sultanahmet Prison; the Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinski on the Bosphorus with an incredible infinity swimming pool that gives you the impression, God forbid, that you are actually swimming in the Bosphorus itself!

Istanbul for a 3-day getaway is absolutely perfect. It’s two time zones away from London. It has great restaurants, a fantastic nightlife, amazing stuff to see and buy and it’s kind of edgy. It’s a good time to go, to see a side of Islam that is not often portrayed. Good for the spirit, good for the soul and good for a better worldview of stuff. And incidentally, the Syrian border is nearly a thousand kilometers away!

We ended up at a hotel in Taksim Square. Being here is simply to take advantage of less expensive hotels and essentially it’s a jumping off point. There is a main street with lots of shops, bland restaurants and a San Francisco-type tram that goes up and down the hill. Taksim Square could be called “tacky” square, so it was fitting that our hotel was called, of all things, The Titanic (http://www.titanic.com.tr/). Maybe they hadn’t read the book, maybe they had seen another film altogether? We hoped our stay would be disaster-free! Check into the room and out on the streets, there is stuff to do in this city and I haven’t been here for a while.

I had not been for several years and so I immersed myself in re-sightseeing, refreshing or simply being in denial about my forgetfulness. The Hagia Sophia was closed the day we were there, so we took in the Blue Mosque, we went down to the cisterns and saw the Medusa, we spent some time at Topkapi Palace, which has beautiful views across the water and rummaged around the spice market and the Grand Bazaar. The city is tightly woven like a fine cloth, nothing is too far away from each other, and everything really, is on the other side of the Galata Bridge. The smells from the spice market waft through the air, mingling with the call to prayer. The guys selling tea on portable stands pop up like Starbucks and the Turkish ice cream guys play with the ice cream as if it were molten metal, drawing the tourists in – me included. Incidentally if you are crazy enough to want to go to a soccer game, the stadiums are in the center of town and Turkish fans make English fans look docile.

Hampstead Heath, London

Hampstead Heath

I popped into London for a couple of days, primarily to check in with mum and to do some other business. I love London! I had arranged to meet with her over by Hampstead Heath, a feast of childhood memories for me. Hampstead Heath is a real wonder in the center of London. It dates back to 986, was bought by the City of London in the 19th century and has been protected land for Londoners to enjoy ever since.

photo 1 (1)

I jumped on the 24 bus and jumped off at the bottom of the hill that leads to the Heath itself. Unlike the Royal parks, Hampstead is a wild and rambling forest-like place, beset with a necklace of ponds nestled amongst the hills and valleys that comprise acres and acres of endless walking paths. My mum used to swim in the ponds of Hampstead Heath. In those days the ponds were separated into male and female. In these most liberal days they are now mixed! This is where Londoners retreated in the 17th Century to avoid the Great Plague. They even called one of the ponds, the “Vale of Health.”

We walked to the top of Parliament Hill, from the Heath side, and there was the view I almost remembered as a kid. The skyline has changed so much, modern buildings like the Shard and the Gherkin, provide a spectacular vista of the new London. London’s skyline in the distance, only 4 miles away and yet we could have been in another world.

photo 2

Nowadays the houses that abut the ponds have this wonderful disheveled upmarket feel to them. The stately house of Kenwood serves as an anchor on one side of the Heath, while on the other is the running track and open air swimming pool, providing recreational space for London’s summer needs. I remember the fairs at Hampstead Heath, fishing in the ponds, long walks through the acres and acres of woodland and biking clear across to Highgate. All of these places became my backyard. We had no garden; we didn’t need one. We had Hampstead.

We finished our day at the pub by the railway station and I took the 24 double-decker back into town. I thought to myself what a wonder it is to have a space like this in a busy metropolis like London. There’s a whole debate right now about the new Garden Bridge project in London. On one hand you have the desire to protect London’s cherished architectural landscape, on the other hand you have the greening of London. The Garden Bridge promises to be an iconic tourist attraction and something for Londoners to enjoy as they cross from North to South on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I love this idea. It’s probably one of the most exciting concepts out there at the moment. It’s funny really. Hampstead was probably its inspiration.

GardenBridge2