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Posts tagged ‘eleven madison park’

the ghosts of New York past…

My recent trip to NYC was especially memorable as I spent time with three different friends, each one from a different decade of my life and each friendship established via totally different circumstances… but all of whom came together – without actually meeting! – back in 1996.

As I mentioned, in 1995 I decided to fly to NYC to meet up with my friend David who was working in Saudi Arabia at the time.  Only scientists knew how to use the internet back then (you actually needed to know things like DOS commands to use computers 🙂 so we arranged the trip via fax.

It was a roaring success so I went back the following year.  In July really cool people are in the Hamptons but I am never going to be cool so was happy just to be there in my cheap sweaty midtown hotel room.  My friend Sarah was working in DC at the time so came up for the weekend and we ran around in NYC imagining what it might be like to live there.

It was how I learned to love Negronis.  I figured it would be fun to play at being cool so I had read about a place called Pravda somewhere.  It was a bar in the emerging Nolita district of Manhattan too hip to actually have a sign so we had to wander around a bit and finally descend down a staircase and open a mysterious black door… but we found it.  And I suggested we order a Negroni since

bar ngorongoro crater lodge

bar ngorongoro crater lodge

said they were the hot drink of summer 1996.  Our cool factor may not have been really high but at least we were trying hard to not just be typical tourists…

And I really liked the Negroni!  In those days, I didn’t drink cocktails so was always stumped when there wasn’t a cocktail list.  So I started ordering a Negroni.  It took me years to remember what was in it.  It was purely accidental that I discovered it was one of those classic cocktails that gets you respect from the bartender.  Ordering a Negroni almost makes me seem cool 🙂


There have been lots of memorable Negronis over the years but it will be hard to top the one I taught the bartender how to make at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania.  The lodge is a bit much but it was my last night in Africa and it was so fancy I could dress up.  I had forgotten though that it would be pitch black when I left the main building to go back to my Versailles-like hut so I freaked out my Masai warrior escort gingerly picking my way along the path in heels.  But I told him I had the balance of an impala – and we made it there without him having to catch me in his arms.  The wood was warped so the door stuck.  His job was to make sure I got into my room so he had to open it – it took some effort!  It had all been a delightful way to end the night – and my Serengeti adventure – so I blew him a kiss.  He blew me one back.  It’s not every day you have a Masai warrior blowing you a kiss 😉


I haven’t met any Masai warriors in NYC but there has been some kissing there over the years…

Including that week back in 1996… Sarah went back to DC and I was supposed to spend the next Saturday doing a bar crawl on the Upper West Side with my friend Despina.  I had read about all these new bars on the upper West and I had been there before with friends so figured it was a safe neighborhood for us to wander in and maybe have a bit of adventure.  But she had a new job so had to work on Saturday night to meet her Monday deadline.

It was my last night in NYC and it seemed wrong to stay in my hotel room.  At that stage, I hadn’t done much wandering in NYC alone but the neighborhood seemed pretty easy and I figured I would just stay alert – and drink lots of cranberry juice in between cocktails.

It was how I discovered the pleasures of having dinner at the bar.  I bonded with each bartender so I knew they had my back if I needed it.  I chatted with random people who sat next to me.  I eavesdropped on conversations and got a much clearer sense for the culture of the place.  That was also how I met my Mr. Big 🙂

It was the last bar.  I was just having a final cocktail and thought I would likely head home before it got too late.  But a guy came in and sat next to me and we started talking.  He was a junior investment banker.  For the first few years, they work practically around the clock so he was finishing work and having a drink in a local bar before going home to bed.

What really bonded us was that he was Canadian.  It seemed like fate…  going on a random bar crawl alone on your last night in New York and then meeting a fellow Canadian on the Upper West Side far from other tourists just as you were both planning to go home… so we didn’t.  He wondered if I wanted to go to a club in SOHO.  That seemed much more fun than my hotel room and we would be in a taxi so I could just get out if I needed to…

In the end, my attempts at personal safety ended up being quite hilarious.  I thought I shouldn’t let him know where I lived since I didn’t know him very well so I got out of the taxi a couple of blocks before the hotel and walked by myself at 3am on the streets of New York.  At the time, I didn’t realize he had the taxi follow me to make sure I would get to my hotel safely.  And that’s how apparently flowers showed up at my hotel the next day – but I had already checked out.

And – despite evidence to the contrary – he didn’t think I was completely insane and a grand, bi-coastal romance blossomed.  I don’t date people unless I really like them so we have stayed friends and try to meet when I am in NYC to catch up on our lives.  It’s been really wonderful to watch him change over the years.  Even cocky junior investment bankers can mellow into caring dads 🙂  It’s a crazy business with a lot of questionable ethics but that chance night on the upper West has allowed me to see that not all investment bankers are evil 😉nyc 324

I have known Despina the longest.  Our friendship began as pen pals at age 15.  When I was a teenager, I felt closer to her than most of the people in my actual community.  We finally met in person in the early 90s.  She is an artist so our lives have run on very different paths but we both love food and art so we incorporate that into our joint adventures.

We likely know more about each other’s romantic adventures than anyone else in our lives as we have been talking about boys since the point at which we were lamenting no one would ever ask us out on a date 🙂  What has been most interesting is the strange parallels in our intercontinental criss-crossing.  We have both lived in Australia.  When she was living in Paris, I was in Germany so could hop on a train and come to visit.  Now she is back in New Jersey so getting together in person is easier but she is an incredible writer so we still have letters travelling back and forth – they are just electronic now.  I cherish them.  They are full of newsy detail and personal thoughts – far removed from a tweet – and my life is so much richer for it.

And Sarah now lives in NYC!  She has made good on our wild imaginings about what it might be like to live in NYC.  It’s not what we would have imagined back then.  She is married with children now – and the cool factor has migrated beyond Nolita to the Lower East Side.  She’s brilliant and insightful so it was fascinating to hear her initial impressions of life in one of the most famous cities on earth.

And it will make it easier to visit her!  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, most of my friendships have an unusual genesis.  Sarah and I became friends because she was my roommate for 6 weeks in Calgary during the summer of 1983.  I was living in the University of Calgary student dorm so the facilities were pretty limited and her sister lived in town so I barely saw her but our few chats really intrigued me so I made sure we exchanged contact information.  Neither of us has ever had much free time and it’s a bit incredible our paper correspondence survived before the internet.  She is a scientist so she was my first email!  There have been many since.  And some live encounters to supplement the flow of bytes.

The message?  You never know what life has in store for you.  And how random people in your life might align and create new adventures.  If you meet someone you find interesting, be sure to get some contact info – and then just see what happens…  All three of them opened up my world and changed my life – for the better.


p.s. one final restaurant recommendation that didn’t fit into the stream of consciousness…  Nomad (from the brilliant guys at Eleven Madison Park)


let’s get lost…

Firdevs suggested I do that my first day in Istanbul but I decided I would wait a couple of days to take Chet Baker’s advice…

In case you are starting to feel like you are on Contiki tour bus doing the Europe in 10 days tour, I will provide a little geographical grounding.  I am actually in Paris as I type this.  I have been collecting thoughts, writing notes and scribbling little bits of various blog posts over the past few days in various locales so I am now going to try and finish some of the posts and send them out into the world wide web.

So we are finished with Berlin.  This will be the last post for Istanbul.  A lot more happened on my first two days in Paris than I expected so we still have to catch up on Paris v1.0 and then move on to the present, Paris v2.0.  But right now we are back in Istanbul on my final day there…

I was pretty sure I knew the way to Galata now from my neighborhood so I just wandered off without a map, seeing if I would need to use one.  The Galata Tower is, if I remember correctly, the oldest structure of its kind, the CN Tower of the ancient world.  Of course, in the ancient world, there weren’t a lot of people so the stone stairs are narrow, it is very crowded at the top and I would not recommend it if you are scared of heights.  But it provides a sweeping view of the entire city.  Unfortunately it was pretty smoggy and sunny and getting a great photo proved difficult but I saw it and it was spectacular.  If YOU want to see it, you will have to go to Istanbul 🙂

I figured the Galata Bridge shouldn’t be too far away and I might be able to find it just by wandering in the general direction.  It worked!  We will now time travel to the thoughts I scribbled in a notebook in the moment…

“I found the Galata Bridge so I am now sitting on a tiny stool with a bunch of single men waiting for the mystery fish that I ordered.  Had I thought it through a little better, I would have paid more attention to the fish names in the market while I was snapping their portraits.  Luckily I like fish and have eaten fish all over the world.  Fish – unlike Coca Cola – is very local so you are forced to be adventurous.  Sitting here on my precarious perch surrounded by people speaking Turkish and no other tourists in the vicinity, I feel like an adventuress.

Having a sense of adventure can get you in tiny bits of trouble but I have good instincts and have never come to harm anywhere.

It has arrived!  A giant fish complete with eyeballs staring at me.  Luckily my mom is not here with me.  Once upon a time in one of Honest Ed’s fancy restaurants in Toronto, she was served a piece of fish that had not been filleted.  She couldn’t even just cut the head off.  It had to be removed by someone else and then placed UNDER the table so it couldn’t watch her eating it.  I fished it out from under the table before we left so the server wouldn’t have to wait for the smell to find it…

I have no idea what this fish IS but it is excellent.   So I guess I would just encourage you to find the fish market near the Galata Bridge and just order something…  You can benefit from my experience and choose some fish that looks promising and note its name in Turkish before you sit down to eat :)”

OK, so now back to talking about the past in the present…

Emboldened by my fish market adventure, I decided to see if I could do a Bosphorous tour.  I’d been a little worried about getting on a boat and being taken somewhere and not knowing where I was and not speaking a world of Turkish, having trouble getting home.  But one has to take some small adventures if you want to have the great stories in the nursing home so I wandered over to the dock and saw a sign that suggested I could pay 12 Turkish lira and get on a boat that would take me on a one hour Bosphorous cruise.

Well, the 12 lira part was accurate.  And I did get on a boat.  A lot of hand gestures and false starts ensued before I actually found a boat that would take me.  And then the suggestion was that it was the wrong boat but I could get on anyway.  That always feels comforting when you can’t speak the language and you are now on a boat going somewhere…

Luckily we were only going across the water.  But then the guy who had let me and a couple of others on came and rounded us up and kicked us off.  Where we were supposed to go next was really unclear but I thought he had said the number 3 and he seemed to be OK when I finally tried to get on the third boat in the line after we docked.  I’d first tried the one next door but the hand gestures suggested no.  The guy on the third boat actually took my ticket so it seemed promising.  Of course, I now had no idea where I was going – or where I was supposed to get off.

Despite the slight trauma involved in the experience, seeing the Bosphorous from the water was one of the best things that I did while I was in Istanbul.  And I was really happy Manuel had really pushed me to get on the water.  The palaces, villas and yachts parked in front that you see from the water are amazing.  And I got to try some Turkish tea!  Which was incredibly bitter.  I am not much for sweets but I used both packets of sugar just to make it palatable.

While the cruise part was wonderful, I still had to deal with the mystery of departure.  I gathered there was going to be a few different options so I just disembarked when the vast majority of other people did.  It seemed the safest option.

It was, of course, not where I had started my cruise… so I looked around vacantly trying to figure out where I was on the map.  Luckily I realized after a few minutes the dock name I couldn’t find on my map wasn’t a dock name at all – but the name of the ship line.  I looked around a bit and decided I was likely next to the Galata Bridge – but on the other side.

So… if I just walked over the bridge, I would be back where I had started from – and where I knew my way.  It worked!  People fish off the Galata Bridge.  There are fish restaurants everywhere.  So walking back allowed me to absorb the atmosphere and take a few photos.

I then attempted to get killed trying to cross the street.  I even followed locals but not all of them had made the right choice.  I later learned that there was likely an underground passageway I was supposed to be using instead of playing in traffic.  But once upon a time I had to cross a busy road in Pompeii all by myself in order to not miss the bus back to Rome and once you have done that, traffic doesn’t scare you anymore 😉

I got back to the hotel without a map and the rest of the evening seemed a little wimpy by comparison 🙂  I did go and say good-bye to my bartenders and got to see more bombs on the news in Turkish.  It was a little disconcerting.  One of the bars I frequently had a TV but the news was in Turkish of course so I would see stuff that looked kind of scary but not really be sure where it was happening…

While I was in Istanbul, I finished “Three Cups of Tea.”  I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it.  About a guy named Greg Mortenson building schools – mostly for girls – in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  I had started reading it in Vancouver but never had time to finish so put it in my luggage for the trip.  Reading it in Turkey was definitely more poignant.

I finished Istanbul with dinner at Mikla.  Mikla is one of the most famous and expensive restaurants in Istanbul.  It is on the 18th floor of the Marmara Pera with a sweeping 360 degree view of Istanbul lit up at night.  The view was stunning and worth paying for the dinner.

Unfortunately for Mikla I have eaten all over the world.  I have even turned my small town mother into the kind of protégé who says snobby stuff like, “yes, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s was OK but the One at the Balmoral in Edinburgh was a true gourmet paradise.”  And, “yeah, I enjoyed Daniel but it was no Eleven Madison Park.”  Needless to say, impressing me isn’t easy…

In general Mikla was underwhelming.   It seemed to be trying a little too hard to be hip – and that is never cool.   So, if you go to Istanbul, go there for the view – but a drink in the bar likely a cheaper way to do that.  Go to Auf for the food.

I learned some new information in Istanbul.  But mostly what I came away with was a confirmation of my travel strategy that seems to work everywhere…  Get a map and a guidebook and use them for general advice but don’t be afraid to make your own choices too.  Engage the locals and take some chances – get a little lost, try an obscure restaurant, take a ferry to somewhere…  If you don’t come home without at least one story someone else is willing to listen to, you are just a tourist… not yet a real traveller 😉

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