Posted by inka on Apr 28, 2012 in art
, Luxury hotels
, New York
, Travel tips
I don’t much like pubs, but I love bars. If they are: decadent, plush, with piano music, great cocktails, elegant, sophisticated and inviting. Belemans’ Bar in new York perfectly fits the bill.
The was visiting a friend over Christmas, two years ago. She is a travel writer too, but of far more acclaim as I can ever hope to be. Which meant, that the Plaza Hotel had comped her for a night to write about their recent refurbishments and the Eloise shop for a New York magazine. Generously, she took me along and we both had a great time.
The next day I I was in for a surprise. I told her that I would like to visit Bemelans’ Bar. Believe it or not, a born and bred New Yorker, familiar with all the cool places, she had never heard of the establishment. It made me quite proud, I must say to be able to be her guide for a change and off we went to another New York landmark hotel, the Carlyle.
Located on 76th Street and Park Avenue, the Carlyle is a bastion of post-war decadence with the splendor of the times still in place. Stepping inside, is like entering the world of Scott Fitzgerald. The names Bemelman and Carlyle are inseparable because the illustrator of Eloise’s ‘sister in mischief’ , Madeline, decorated the Bar with a vast mural of a picnic in Central Park where the revelers are rabbits. It’s the only remaining work of the artist on public display. In exchnage for the creation of the murals, Mr. Bemelman and his family got to stay for free in the hotel for a year and a half.
Madeline is twelve and lives in an old , wine covered house in Paris, the youngest of eleven girls and, like Eloise, ready to take on the world and determined never to be bored. Ludwig Bemelman illustrated the books and although Madeline never set foot in Bemelman’s Bar (might have had something to do with her age!) I can vividly imagine her hidden in one of the deep leather banquettes, listening to the piano player and having serious opinions about the posh clientele.
Photograph curtesy of Bemelmans Bar
I had one of their glorious cocktails with lots of lemon and fresh mint in it and said a toast to my childhood, made entertaining in great part by the adventures of Eloise and Madeline. We spent about three hours in the bar, listening to the piano player and getting into conversations with other guests. The tables are small and quite close together, so it’s nearly inevitable to exchange a word or two with your neighbors. And I was surprised how sociable New Yorkers are. During the three hours we talked to an attorney, a record producer, a journalist and a socialite, each and very one happy to enjoy the atmosphere and to discuss Mr. Bemelmans and his rabbits.
Afterwards, we needed to catch a train from Grand Central Station. The doorman wouldn’t let us use a taxi, he snapped his fingers and one of the hotel’s luxurious Mercedes curtsey cars took us to the station in style. Free of charge, will you believe it, but the driver got a very nice tip indeed.
Posted by inka on Apr 26, 2012 in Austria
I grew up in a ‘Kaffeehaus’ culture. Starbucks at all weren’t even a blip on the horizon. You went to a café to meet friends and sit in style. Or read a book or the paper for as long as you pleased. Nobody would have dreamed of eating and drinking out of plastic. The cakes you took away with you were lovingly placed in a box, wrapped and adorned with a bow. Not thrown helter skelter into a paper bag which becomes a soggy mass in a matter of minutes. I have to admit, I still hate any kind of self service joint, although it can’t always be avoided.
Luckily, it isn’t as if the Kaffeehaus culture has vanished. It is alive and well and two of my favorite examples are to be found in Italy and Austria. In Venice and Salzburg to be precise.
I visited Venice’s Caffé Florian for the first time during carnival last year. Which gave the place a special magic, but even in ‘normal’ times it’s the epitome of an elegant café. Here is a bit of history.
Opened on December 29th of 1720, Caffe Florian is a contender for oldest coffeehouse in continuous operation. Originally is consisted of only two rooms, but successive owners (most of them family ) expanded the premises to include the Hall of Illustrious Men, the Chinese hall, the Hall of the Senate and the Oriental Hall. Located in the arcade which surrounds Venice’s Piazza San Marco, the café became a meeting place not only for the rich and famous like Goldoni, Casanova, Goethe, Lord Byron or Marcel Proust but for citizens from different social classes. It was one of the few places where the new Gazzeta Veneta could be bought, read and…discussed. True, it’s also a tourist attraction, but basically it remains a Venetian meeting point. You can listen to the piano player and enjoy wonderful cakes and of course, the world famous Italian ice-cream.
Caffe Florian during carnival
Piazza San Marco
No less fascinating and enjoyable is Salzburg’s Café Sacher. Café and hotel are side by side and it opened in 1876. The terrace is overlooking the River Salzach but I like best the indoors and the Wall of Fame
. Not to mention the famous Sacher torte, a chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam. The cake is actually older than the café, having been created by Mr. Sacher in 1832 when he was a humble apprentice at the court of Fürst Metternich. Having been asked to dream up an especially delicious desert, he had the inspiration for his chocolate and apricot cake. A concoction I enjoy every time when I visit Salzburg.
Posted by inka on Apr 23, 2012 in art
, Day trips
, Luxury hotels
I sometimes get to visit places in a rather roundabout and unexpected way. That has a lot to do with the fact, that I’m given to on the spot decisions and my ability to change plans when I’m not happy with my present situation. My visit to wonderful Quebec is a point in case.
You see, I walked off a cruise – just like that. I was on a cruise ship from Hamburg to Toronto. Land excursions in Iceland and Greenland were rather disappointing, I felt trapped on the ship, my fellow passengers were talking about nothing but their previous cruises and whether or not they had been recognized by the maitre d’ or the food was awful or not. Not a word about what they had seen or done in places as fascinating as Patagonia. In short, I was bored to tears. My purpose for being on that cruise in the first place was that I wanted to see icebergs.
Approaching Newfoundland, I finally got my wish. There they were, majestically rising out of the blue waters of the North Atlantic, brought to mysterious life by brilliant sunshine, a breathtaking view.
It can’t get any better, I thought, so I might as well end the trip here and go on to Canada under my own steam. As soon as I uttered my wish to the cruise director, great brouhaha ensued. You would think it’s easy to just walk off, but not so. Finally, when they saw that I wouldn’t change my mind, they let me go.
I spent a great day on my own and then took the next flight to Quebec. First order of the day when arriving at the airport was to find accommodation. I knew about the famous Chateau Frontenac, one of Quebec’s many attractions and one of the most luxurious hotels in all of Canada. I didn’t have a reservation, but I trusted my luck and took a taxi there.
Fairmont Hotel Chateau Frontenac
Photograph by Jeangagnon wikipedia commons
Located at the backdrop of the St. Lawrence River, the towers of the hotel greeted me from afar and I felt like heaven the moment I stepped into the lobby. Definitely my kind of hotel and, yes, they did have a room. Don’t even ask what it cost me, but it was worth every penny. No luxury was spared in my room, I strolled along the corridors, admired the paintings and decorations, had a splendid meal and enjoyed the view over the city of Quebec at night.
The next morning I looked down at the funicular which connects Haute Ville with Basse Ville in a steep drop. In childish pleasure, I rode it four times, before finally staying in the cobble stone streets of the historic Petit Champlain district. I couldn’t get enough of the old world French feeling of the many shops and cafes and I even bought a beautiful handbag.
Photograph by Garrett Rock GNU Free documentation license
Typical street in Quebec's Old Town
A visit to Notre Dame des Victoires and then I made my way to Battlefield Park and the fabulous museum of Fine Arts. I was surorised to see how many parks there are and how green the city is. Art galleries everywhere, not to mention restaurants and exquisite residential areas.
I didn’t have that much time because I needed to catch my return flight to Hamburg from Toronto, so I left the next day by train. Another pleasant surprise. I only went second class, but it was better than many first class compartments anywhere else. The waiting room was more like an airport lounge and, when the train was due to leave, an assistant came to fetch me, accompanied me to my seat and even stowed the luggage for me. Thumbs up for Canadian railways.
A great day in Toronto rounded out my very particular ‘cruise’. At the airport, I was reunited with the other ‘cruisers’, nobody spoke to me. I think they took my ‘desertion’ a bit personally, hanging over the railing when I left, shaking their heads and tut-tutting. Did I care? I had a fabulous trip, seen everything I wanted to and reaffirmed in my opinion that it’s entirely up to you to make the best of any situation.
Posted by inka on Apr 20, 2012 in art
, Day trips
Gibraltar is one of those places which you either hate or love. No room for indifference. I know plenty of people who hate the place. ‘Dirty, noisy, too commercial’ are some of the comments. I personally belong to the group of Gibraltar fans.
Over the years I have visited hundreds of times, mostly due to my job as an attorney in Marbella. Hence the banks. These times are now in the past and I visit for pleasure. What I leave out though are the monkeys. Everybody knows about the monkeys which live on the rock and have become a trademark of Gibraltar. Opinions still differ on how they came to be there in the first place, but the most convincing theory seems to be, that they were on board a ship which anchored in the bay. Finding the climate and food agreeable, they decided to stay after they escaped and to breed, and breed, and breed!!!
They may look cute – from a distance. Close up they are smelly, noisy, nosy and they bite. The opinion will change from ‘cute’ to ‘nasty’ quickly after they have snatched your purse and made off with it to an unreachable place between the rocks.
But, as the title of this post indicates, there is much more to Gibraltar than banks and monkeys and here are some of my reasons why I love the place:
Spanish and English are spoken simultaneously in Gibraltar and I mean this literally. ‘Muchas thank you’ is absolutely common. And totally correct Gibraltar speak. Which ever language comes to mind first you use, to be followed by the other. I happily join in. This way of talking feels cosmopolitan, sophisticated and relaxed at the same time. Very much in keeping with the entire atmosphere of Gibraltar.
When I first came to Gibraltar, the airport was even smaller and more cute than it is now. Modern times (and security) have caught up, but it’s still a place which evokes feeling of flying pioneers. You walk across the tarmac to your plane and you climb gangways.
Even better is the runway. It ends just short of or in the sea, depending on the skill of the pilot. Quite a few have misjudged in the past. When coming to Gibraltar, I parked my car in La Linea, the neighboring town on the Spanish side. The I walked across the border and, to reach town, have to cross the runway. A flimsy barrier and a traffic light indicate when it’s safe to cross. However, more often than not, bells start clanging, lights start flashing and the barrier starts to lower when you are halfway across and it always gives me a thrill to see who is faster: me or the approaching plane. As far as I know, there has never been an accident, but there is always a first time.
I bet you don’t associate Gibraltar with glassblowers, yet there it is: The Gibraltar Crystal factors in th Grand Casemate near the clock tower. Fabulous works of art, goblets and vases are made in a quite small factory. What is more, you can watch the entire process really up close and buy the most beautiful things in the showroom. To see my favorite, a black and gold goblet, visit www.gibraltar-crystal.com.
Even watching the masters makes thirsty and you can enjoy a pint or two in the picturesque pub right next door.
St. Michael’s Cave
Rock of Gibraltar
Photograph by Gibnews Wikipedia common
The rock appears solid, but it is really quite hollow. Apart from man-made tunnels, there are over 150 caves of which St. Michael’s is the most fascinating. Over 1 mill visitors a year think exactly the same. A cathedral like structure of stalagmites and stalactites form a natural auditorium. The many colors of the minerals are enhanced by skilful lighting. Acoustic is fabulous too, that why the main ‘hall’is used for concerts and.. the Miss Gibraltar Beauty Pageant.
St Michael's Cave
Photograph by Greenshed Wikipedia common
I need to revisit soon because last time I didn’t have a digital camera and I want to take my own pictures. Ah yes, and a spit of shopping never comes amiss either.
Posted by inka on Apr 18, 2012 in food
, Turkey Travel
Those who follow me know that, as a rule of thumb, I eat as little as possible. I hate to put on weight and, as a result, am practically constantly on a diet. I believe that my stomach has already shrunk, so dieting is no hardship, it comes naturally. But, no rule without exceptions and in Turkey it’s particularly tempting to throw caution to the wind. Which I do, now and again, and with a vengeance! I have been know, on occasions, to polish off other people’s dishes in addition to my own leaving everybody who knows about my ‘no food rule ‘ open mouthed. Great fun! What would life be like without surprises.
Here is a list of my favorite Turkish dishes and meals. Does your mouth start watering?
The ingredients and number of dishes consumed for breakfast in Turkey vary from region to region. Van, in the east is famous for its breakfast which consist of hot and cold dishes. If you eat them all, it’ll last you all day. But, the basics are always the same: bread, butter, home made thick marmalades, honey, yoghurt, boiled eggs, sliced cucumber, slices tomatoes and a variety of olives. Accompanied by gallons of Turkish teas fresh from the urn.
Digging in Turkish style
I love pide, the Turkish pizza. Only, the dough is paper thin and crusty and the toppings are minced meat and vegetables with melted cheese. There is also a vegetarian variety and very rarely – shrimps.
The most succulent of kebabs was invented by the Bursa cook Iskender, who, one day, had the bright idea to put his spit vertically instead of horizontally to enable him to cut off thinner slices of meat. Sprinkled with butter and yoghurt on a bed of Turikish bread and accompanied with salad, the Iskender kebab is a hit ever since.
Iskender's restaurant in Bursa
Often translated as ‘meatballs’ Turkish köfte are anything but bland. Spices are added to the minced meat which charcoal grilled is juicy and tasty. I like to eat my köfte with yoghurt and salad.
Stews are popular in Turkey and the lamb stew is the best. It comes in a sauce of onions, tomatoes and the ever popular aubergines. Simmered for hiurs, the meat melts in your mouth.
This snack is a specialty of Istanbul. Filets of fish are grilled at colorful stalls under the Galata bridge in Istanbul, then slapped into a cut open bun and ‘adorned’ with a variety of pickles. Eaten on the steps of the bridge or sitting on some rickety chairswhich stand around, they are a healthy, tasty and filling snack. Not to mention cheap!
These guys are accomplished cooks
I have a sweet tooth and like all kinds of Turkish sweets, from fruit flavored Turksih delight to walnut stuffed dates, but Künefe is my absolute favorite when home made. Think sweet, melted cheese with a topping made like the threads of baklava, honey drizzled over it and you get the idea. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it has about 1000 calories per spoonful, but who is counting?
I love the Turkish ‘fast food’ restaurants, where all the dishes are prepared and presented on hot buffets. You look, point, get served, add your drink and enjoy.
Doesn't it look inviting?