So, after a pretty hectic work-filled week in Marrakech, I flew to Geneva to spend Easter weekend with my friend Jonathan (who was in NYC a few weeks ago you may remember) as his husband Michael is out of town visiting friends of his own. Yesterday we had a lovely dinner and hung out in Geneva, while today we crossed the border into nearby France to visit a very cute little town called Annecy, full of history and wine and cheese and lots of rain. Still, it was a super charming place to walk around, and we had a lovely time. Then this evening we were invited to a delicious home cooked meal by Jonathan’s friend Richard, and now we are back home where I am endeavoring to not feel like the fat pig I am for all I have eaten today. In case you want the rundown between lunch and dinner, there was escargot and tartiflette and jambon cru (salt cured ham) and vin blanc and vin rouge and gnocchi and steak and mousse au chocolat and some kind of lemon tart, and of course several coffees.
Yesterday we decided to take a little trip outside Lisbon, to visit a beautiful little town called Sintra. But first, we took a little walk along the water, over to the Mercado da Ribeira for breakfast at a super cute and new collection of little restaurants in a kind of market food court (definitely recommended). After that we made our way through the city towards the train station to catch a train to Sintra. We had also planned to go to Cascais after Sintra, and were asking the ticket agent about our options when she recommended the 15 Euro day pass which would work on all trains and busses in the region, so we took that. I have to say that catching all the transport in Portugal has been a breeze so far, whether tram, train or bus.
Sintra is really a collection of several things to see, from the old town itself to the palace and castle in the nearby hills. I suppose the lesser fit usually decide to take the tourist bus up the mountain to get to those sites, but we decided that was for whiners and babies, so off we went. Let’s just say we probably worked off a lot of the pastry we have been eating on that walk, it was quite a climb up to the Castelo dos Mouros and on to the Palácio da Pena. Stijn and Xavier were giving me angry looks as we huffed and puffed our way up and up and up, expecting to reach our destination at every turn in the road and being cruelly disappointed that there was still some distance to go. But it was worth it (at least I thought it was), the path up was so beautiful, the views stunning, and the palace…well, the palace was one of the places that inspired Disneyland, apparently. It was beautiful in its way, but kinda over the top kitschy design, even for the era. Still, definitely worth a visit.
After that, we meandered down the hill, taking in the views and talking more and more about various body aches and how fun it is to get older. At the bottom of the hill near the train station, we arrived just in time to catch the 417 bus that was leaving for Cascais. We pretty much zoned out on the bus during the 45 minutes or so it took to get there, then had a relaxing beer in a local pub, and then went looking for (and found) an amazing seafood restaurant recommended to us by the owner of the apartment we are staying in. The place is called Marisco na Praça, and we ordered a number of sea creatures I had never seen before, one of which turned out to be goose barnacles, and the other some sort of gigantic deep red prawn from waters around Morocco. In addition to that we had an octopus salad and regular tiger prawns, and everything was cooked to perfection. If you go to Cascais, you must go to this place.
We had planned on going out dancing last night, but by the time we got back to the apartment we were beat, and called it a night and fell fast asleep.
Since Emre had to work again yesterday, Karpat and I went to Sultanahmet to hit the spice market and walk around a little. Since I spent about a month in Istanbul a couple of years ago, I don’t really feel pressure to see all the tourist stuff I did back then, and can now just sort of wander aimlessly in some of these areas and take pleasure in that. The markets were surprisingly empty on a Sunday morning, I remember before they were so packed it was difficult to walk through at all. We meandered a bit, picked up some spices, had lunch at a lokanta, crossed the bridge, ate some sweets, took the tunel and metro back to Emre’s place, then drove from Şişli over to the Asian side where Karpat lives. Emre met us over at Karpat’s, and they made me a lovely dinner (which included some yummy new things I had not tried before, like Pastirma). Today (weather permitting) we will take a small road trip somewhere, but even if we don’t, I am really enjoying just hanging out with my friends.
Yesterday a nice local guy named Sanjeev took me to an amazing dumpling place called ShanDong Mama. Everything I had there was super delicious, from the spicy Szechuan pepper beef to the pan friend “Melbourne” dumplings to the steamed “Dill-icious” dumplings. Highly recommended if you are in Melbourne.
After that, I took a stroll through the CBD over to the NGV to see the JPG show. Upon entering, there is a room filled with mannequins that have video faces projected on them, some of which are talking, some are winking, some are smiling, and some are just looking bored but occasionally blinking. It was an amazing (and very creepy) effect, and was definitely leading me down to the uncanny valley. I mean, check these out:
Kinda makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it. Still, very cool. the rest of the show presented the work of Jean-Paul Gaultier over the years, and I have to say it was impressive and filled with humor and delight. It was also quite well organized and a pleasure to walk through. If you should be in Melbourne before it closes, definitely check it out.
Last night I was out for a night on the town with a lovely couple here (Kevin and Jason, who were introduced to me by my friend Gabe). They took me on a tour of some of Seoul’s neighborhoods by night, and I realized something fundamental about Seoul that I feel I had been missing before. There are many small interesting areas that are quite compartmentalized and a little difficult to find if you don’t know exactly where they are. Many times I had been very close to an interesting street or area and had not known anything about it, I had been stuck in some charmless canyon of a street with high walls and no shops or street life at all. Kevin and Jason (and their friend Guido who joined us) took me on a stroll through several of these areas, and they were teeming with life (I am sure it being Saturday night did not hurt anything). We walked through Insadong, up in a cute area near the Anguk station (where I had been a few days ago, but never saw this part), along the canal, had dinner and then ended up at a sweet gay bar (which felt more like a restaurant to me, everyone was sitting at tables) in Jongno. As is always the case, meeting up with a local is the best way to discover a place, and these guys were so great to hang out with.
Wow, I feel like I did a lot of stuff today. While not feeling 100%, I am feeling way better than yesterday when I could barely breath and felt totally weak. Altitude sickness is no fun y’all, but I do have a couple small tips. One: do NOT overexert yourself when arriving for the first time at a high altitude place, and two: take ibuprofen, it seems to help (at least it did me).
This morning I got up early and decided to go see the famous Museo del Oro (gold museum), which was quite a treat, especially the part that delved into the cosmology and symbolism associated with gold in the various cultures. It is also a very beautifully designed place. After that I came back to my hotel to rest for about an hour before heading off to meet my new friend Jaime for lunch in the north of Bogota (something called Zona T I think). We met at some super swank mall and had lunch at this sort of fancy food court. Jaime got the Sancocho and I ordered a traditional Columbian Ajiaco, and a mashed plantain thingy with cheese that I think is called Aborrajado. It was all pretty yummy, if a bit bland. The Columbians aren’t much for spicy, I will tell you that.
After lunch we took a walk in the super posh neighborhoods of northern Bogota, and I was surprised by how eerily quiet the streets were once off the main roads. Really you could have heard a pin drop, or in the case of these neighborhoods, some very high denomination peso bill. Around 5 or so the day was starting to take a small toll on my energy level, and I tried to get a cab, but to no avail. So we walked around a bit and then went back to Jaime’s nearby to wait until I could get one back to my hotel. One thing to note that is super useful if you should come to Bogota — download an app to your phone called “Tappsi“, it will allow you to get a cab, and safely too. When the cab arrives at your location, you have a code to give the driver that he needs to set the meter. You can then share to email or facebook (or other places) your ride’s info, making the whole system quite secure and easy to use. And cabs are not exactly expensive here, I spent about 6 dollars for a 40 min cab ride.
And that’s it, I am beat and heading to bed.
From Gold and North
Last night Anthea (the garden’s graphics consultant who is also in town and staying at the same hotel) and I decided to have dinner together, and asked the concierge for a recommendation close by. Without paying too much attention to the details, off we went to the hotel/restaurant nearby, a place called Dar Rhizlane. Upon arrival, my companion and I had the slightly horrible realization that this was probably going to be quite a bit beyond our means, everything was impeccable, opulent and just screamed call your bank to make sure you have enough to cover this. But since we were already there, and the place was so lovely, we just went with the flow. After ordering the wine, we were informed that there was only a tasting menu offered, and they would be bringing that out to us presently. What followed was the appetizers course, which looked like this:
Each and every dish was delicious. I have had many meals in Morocco where they serve a variety of little plates or salads as appetizers, but this was hands down the best I have ever had. This was followed by a small chicken/mushroom entree, and then a lamb entree, then a pre-dessert sorbet, and finally dessert. Or should I say plate of several desserts, each one quite tasty.
We waited for the bill and played the money guessing game, but by that point I really didn’t care what it cost. It was one of the best meals I have had in Morocco, and one of the most beautiful settings:
I really couldn’t have been more pleased. Or so I thought, until the bill arrived and it turned out to be less of an extravagance than I had feared. If you come to Marrakech, I would highly recommend having a meal at the Dar Rhizlane.
The title of this post refers to several things actually.
I’m off my diet, at least the strictest part of it. And to celebrate, last night we treated ourselves to an amazing meal at Del Posto. Five-course tasting menu, amazing cocktail and bottle of wine. Everything was so tasty and rich. The bread, the pastas, the mains, the desserts and various amuse-bouches. And that leads me to…
I’m feeling off. Especially after my healthy eating of the past month, I think re-introducing all of the above at one time was too much. I felt bloated and queasy much of the night, and didn’t sleep very well, alas. I was hoping to be better rested today because, finally…
I am off to Morocco for work again. I leave tonight from Newark, fly through Geneva and connect an hour after I land to a flight for Marrakech. I will be there for about 8 days, followed by a few days stopover in Geneva to visit my old friend Jonathan who I haven’t seen in a few years.
I’m off to pack, catch you later.
Yesterday we bid a sad goodbye to Milos, who had to return to Dubai. And as my friend Fabian was arriving at the same airport just 2 hours later, we made a brief foray to a Serbian mall before returning to pick him up. All I can say about Serbian malls is that they look like malls anywhere else in the world, with the possible exception that a huge number of Serbian men seem to dress in sweatpants and trainer outfits. It was kind of shitty weather yesterday, raining a lot, so we came back to the apartment and hung out a bit before going out to a fancy Serbian restaurant called Madera for dinner. Even though it was quite fancy and delicious, as with all Serbian food, it consisted almost exclusively of meat, cheese and bread, with perhaps two or three small tomato pieces thrown in as a garnish. I am ever more determined and motivated to investigate the incidence of colon cancer here, it is becoming an obsession.
Since the weather is still not great I think we may take in the Nikola Tesla museum today, and walk around a bit in the city center if the rain lets up.
I have been fortunate to meet some really great Turkish people here, and on more than one occasion when they told me they wanted to take me to a really great restaurant they loved, I was a little crestfallen upon arrival to see that the menus were very similar to what I would find in any midrange American restaurant. To my new friends, these places must seem somewhat exotic and a welcome break from the regional foods they are so familiar with. To me, it is a step up from visiting McDonalds. While the quality of the food in these places is pretty good, and the company always great, I am always hoping while here to try things that I can’t get back in my homeland. It would be as if they came to visit me in New York and I took them to whatever Turkish restaurant I thought was really good.
What is really fascinating to me about this is how similar it shows us all to be at a certain level. Especially the people I have been meeting, who are reaching out to people like me from other cultures. They, and I, want to bridge this divide. We want to know about other cultures, and we are charmed by the difference and newness. We all look for the exotic, not only because we are novelty-seeking, but because we want to connect with our common humanity.