My principal fear is that it will never be as good as the first time.
True, I never intended to fly Ryanair, the Irish low-cost carrier that has generated more passenger horror stories than perhaps any other airline today barring United. Recent work assignments tethering me to Greece, I had sworn silent allegiance to Aegean Airlines, which is now more or less the official carrier of Greece. Supporting the Greek economy, yadda yadda.
But after flying Ryanair #3565 non-stop from Thessaloniki (SKG) to Copenhagen (CPH), I’m not so sure. After all, mistaking brand loyalty for a virtue is slightly un-capitalistic, no?
Whatever. The slightly complex truth is that both carriers are doing good and interesting things (as opposed to Delta and United who with their crazy Basic Economy tactics are doing really dumb things), meaning the competition that’s been brewing for a while is about to heat up. I knew it the second I saw a Ryanair jet disgorge a full load at Chania airport, of all places. But after all, what had brought me to Thessaloniki in the first place? Why, a lovely Aegean A320 that had swooped in sweet and low over the shimmering Thermaic Gulf from an overheated tarmac down in Heraklion, Crete. Even if there was a ferry around that covered that ground, you wouldn’t want to be on it. The boat from Piraeus to Heraklion alone is a nine-hour ordeal, but I digress.
Aegean has got Greece covered. And yet…
The state of the hobbled Greek economy is such that there is no Greek carrier that connects New York with Athens. #Tragic, right? Like we are supposed to sit back and be tickled that Emirates has stepped up to fill in that yawning gap? Hmm…do they allow Israelis on board their American-built aircraft? How about homosexuals? Oh, as long as they don’t kiss and frighten the children? We’ll wait for the marketing people in Dubai to get back to us on that one…
So Ryanair sweet baby, you pretty much had me at that 46€ one-way. I mean really? Fifty bucks for a fairly long, three-hour flight that was basically the perfect fit for my transatlantic connection on Norwegian, minimizing my wait time in the sleek Scandinavian dungeon that is CPH airport? SOLD! Bear in mind that the lowest fare around the third week in May from Athens to Copenhagen non-stop on Aegean was $121, plus add an additional 30€ for a bag and boom, you’re looking at $150. With that in mind, I sprang for the Priority Leisure+ fare on Ryanair, which included one checked bag plus seat selection and priority boarding–none of which were options on that $121-ish Aegean fare.
And before you know it, because your time is always cruelly up quicker than you think in the Mediterranean (don’t even get me started on Tel Aviv), there I was at SKG, with my boarding pass pre-printed and in hand so as to avoid a frankly insane 50€ airport check-in surcharge and maybe it’s just because people really are nicer in Thessaloniki (what is this, like the Phoenix of the Balkans or something? People smiling at 6AM and stuff? Weird). Suitcase whisked off, easy. One last smack-me Greek coffee, Oh God am I going to miss this place, and off to the gate and there are a ton of people in line and I can barely deal, but hey, for once I don’t fucking have to because with my Priority boarding I sail right past ’em and before I know it I’m on board and plopped down in aisle seat 7C. A pretty Greek lady offers me a mint. Was that ridiculously easy or what? No wonder they call it easyJet!!
Oh wait, this is Ryanair…well who can mind these details when you’re losing your religion/virginity/brand loyalty? Seriously though no matter what you were doing the night before or who you were doing it with, there can be no mistaking the interior of a Ryanair 737-800 for any other airplane. The wet lemon yellow and navy blue color scheme was obviously designed by your mother-in-law the night she swallowed the absinthe “by mistake.” We are talking not subtle. We are talking about the safety cards actually plastered onto the seat backs in front of you and seats that don’t recline.
But hell, we’re also talking seats with thicker cushions for your weary ass than comparable ones on easyJet or Aegean. Not quite JetBlue caliber but hey, this is not America (oh wait, isn’t America the place that gave us this single-ply tissue of an airline?) and frankly these seats are not that bad at all. Dammit, I’m not unhappy!
The flight attendants? Young and pretty and professional. The coffee? Should you want some, it’s by Lavazza. For a small charge but hey, Italian coffee on an Irish plane from Greece to Denmark? Fuck yeah, I’m in. And liking it. Not liking the fragrance trolley that’s being shuttled up and down the aisle with all the calculated abandon of a Rachel Maddow monologue, but hey everybody’s got to sell. Doesn’t mean ya gotta buy.
Although, with the fifty or so bucks I saved over competing fares in my pocket, I just might have.
The author paid $101 for his ticket on Ryanair from SKG to CPH in May.
Because it’s my blog, and I’ll turn it into a birthday card if I want to!
This is an old building in Jaffa, probably built during Turkish times i.e. a really long time ago. But wait, this is more about my Dad, who in comparison to this edifice is pretty dang young.
Jumping a few centuries forward, here’s a partial view of Tel Aviv from the balcony of a fancy new hotel called The Brown Beach House. The Mediterranean (not pictured) is on the right.
This is a view from a hotel and office tower on Rothschild Boulevard, looking east over the Neve Tzedek neighborhood to the sea.
Another skyline view, this time looking south.
I took a picture of this cat from the window of my pied-a-terre in Tel Aviv. Then I dropped my new camera on the parquet floor and broke it. But because Dad had insisted on filling out the warranty card, the camera will be fixed and I’ll have money for more shakshukas (see below). Always thinking ahead, while my head’s in my shakshuka–another thing I love about Dad.
Another sunset over the Mediterranean. And if you could momentarily transform yourself into an albatross, the sea might look like this:
…that’s from the balcony of a great hotel in Akko (ancient Acre) called The Efendi. It’s two renovated Ottoman-era mansions joined together.
I had this shakshuka for breakfast in Jaffa the other day. It was good, but the eggs were a bit too runny for my taste.
And now, time for a little video from a place where the breakfasts are always good. As in REALLY good. With that in mind, eat something! And
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!!!!!!!!!
TEL AVIV, Israel—Do you know what makes a great hotel? I know what doesn’t: high thread count Frette linens, a Jeff Koons knock-off in the lobby or the fact that George Washington once slept there, maybe. In other words yes, the devil is in the details but what you want is character. The more character there is in your hotel, the freer you will be to act like the person you really are, but who the predations of routine and inertia may have obscured. This is the reason you travel. Every city has but a handful of hotels that can truly be said to exemplify what that place is really about and it’s a quixotic list of ingredients indeed which, in terms of a hotel’s authenticity of character, of sense of place chops if you will, makes it or breaks it.
From the outside, the Carlton Tel Aviv Hotel looks almost indestructible, a concrete chunk that would appear to be at odds with the blue of the Mediterranean Sea which laps at the shore across the seaside promenade in front of it. Of course, we all know that nothing in life is indestructible except for Cher’s hair, but what I love about this block of concrete, which I’m guessing dates from the 1970s or ’80s, is that it so reflects the Israeli character: hard on the outside, to the point of impenetrable. Certainly unknowable. But what’s inside, ah — this is another matter altogether. Be careful because you might find something sweeter than you had bargained for and then you’ll have to figure out what to do with it. You might become like a hummingbird to nectar, wanting to take in more, hovering, knowing that ultimately you just can’t stay. But in the meantime, there you are…
The Carlton has 268 rooms and suites, which kicks it out of the boutique hotel category however, there is a definite small-hotel feel here and this is due in part to structure. In most instances I would be the last person to sing the praises of concrete, but what you have here is essentially a concrete capsule, narrow at the base and pushing up into a voluminous square 15 stories high, and chock full of delicious surprises. Starting with breakfast. By the beach. Do I really have to keep typing? I said BREAKFAST BY THE BEACH, PEOPLE.
I loved the service at Carlton on the Beach, which is actually the one part of the hotel that’s not part of aforementioned capsule. (It’s a tiny one-minute walk across the beachfront sidewalk). Friendly, solicitous, not overbearing. You know that yours truly is one happy breakfast camper when he finds himself seated next to small children and doesn’t even care: when you are in a fine setting with professional service, not even a wayward bird dropping its calling card on your copy of Haaretz gets you down (some of the newspaper’s left-wing drift might, but this is Israel, and that’s another story). By the way, did I mention that this beachside breakfast experience includes a halvah bar? Well, at risk of repeating myself, this beachside breakfast experience includes a halvah bar. We’re talking chocolate and vanilla. We’re talking pistachio. Here’s the proof:
But I digress because though in Hebrew you read from right to left, you do not typically start a hotel stay in Israel with breakfast. You start with check-in and here at the Carlton it’s a pretty easy process. The lobby is contemporary/cozy, with a sort of New Israeli hygge going for it: light that’s reflecting off the sea streams in to the front, with blue back-lit reception counters. Ten randomly selected guests a day receive a little welcome snack, which consists of glass of refreshing sweet tea, fresh bread sticks, organic cheese and honey dipping sauce. It looks like this:
But if don’t get that welcome snack don’t worry, because apart from things like beds and rainbath showers and surprising sea views, the Carlton Tel Aviv is like one big grazing station.
The hotel’s signature restaurant is called Blue Sky and is situated appropriately enough on the roof, with sweeping views of the Tel Aviv skyline (Bauhaus in the foreground, skyscrapers beyond). It’s run by Meir Adoni, an Israeli celebrity chef whose other renowned restaurants in Tel Aviv are called Catit, in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood, and Mizlala. It’s a kosher gourmet restaurant the menu focuses on fish and vegetarian items.
Not cheap but very, very delicious. My dinner started with a chestnut soup made with root vegetables, chestnuts (natch), grouper in butter, roasted macadamia foam milk and vanilla oil, with a mini cinammon butter brioche on the side. My dining companion, Y, was utterly verklempt, although with Adoni behind the menu I was less surprised by the innovation manifested by this particular potage. Moving on to mains, Y opted for the Spaghetti “Carbonara” with homemade linguini, red tuna “pancetta”, lime aioli and mini parmesan pops. Tempted though I was by the Southern Tortellini, involving as it does seared Arava tomatoes, goat cheese, roasted zucchini, basil and lime zest, I stuck to my piscine priorities and the “Scents from Casablanca” did not disappoint: a well-proportioned grouper fillet in herb butter, pepper marmalade, chard, leek-lemon yogurt, cardamom and saffron crème, fava beans (and mind you, all this was plated on three different areas of the dish), coriander, hummus cream, light tomato sauce and Moroccan-style couscous.
That’s a pretty filling dish, but still I had to leave room for one of Adoni’s signature celestial desserts. Actually, there had to be two: “Winter in Florence”, a coffee-esque concoction of amaretto tiramisu, mascarpone and coffee crème, coffee crumble, candied almonds, biscotti bits, porcini sugar (!), brandy zabaglione and basil. If that seems slightly more complicated than the Middle East peace process that’s because it probably is, but also a lot tastier. Y tucked into it with aplomb whilst my thoughts, and fork, were deep into the Caribbean Sunset, which looked something like this:
Frankly, this is the kind of food you dream about. So thank heavens the guestrooms at the Carlton are perfectly proportioned and comfortable. I can’t tell you how many hotel rooms in Tel Aviv have disappointed me for the same reason they do in New York: they are often just way too petite. I am not saying each and every room here is enormous, but the size is ample and there are frequently sea views that would be the envy of most other hotels. I also like the fact that the balconies with said sea views are small: you’re not meant to lounge there and this, mercifully, is not a party hotel, but maybe to pause and meditate for a moment, perhaps over an espresso (and the rooms have electric kettles with coffee and tea if you need a quick caffeine fix). Room enough to hang a swimsuit out to dry 🙂
I recommend booking the Bianco Suite, if you can afford it (Santa can you hear me? I promise to be nice..) A Royal Executive room on floors 11-14 will get you complimentary access to the Royal Executive Lounge on the 14th floor, which is open daily from 9AM to 11PM. It offers a solid buffet with drinks and snacks, computer stations and a selection of international newspapers. It’s very quiet up here, and come sunset you might see something out the windows that looks like this:
Sometimes the sunsets like Day-Glo candy pink over the Mediterranean, Like the pink petit-fours I tried not to monopolize at the lounge buffet, pictured here. Not pictured, a very nice kosher vegetable soup. The offerings change daily…
…as do the views from the roof top pool, from the front,
…and the back (restaurant level)
Stellar views, groovy cuisine, a range of really great rooms…I almost forgot to mention the gym! It’s on the fifth floor and features the latest Technogym equipment, sea views and a live beach cam. There’s also a nifty little dry sauna as well as a tiled hammam-style steam room and two rooms for spa treatments or massages.
More pictures from Carlton on the Beach, for breakfast:
….the outside deck is elevated, so your view of the blue is unobstructed:
btw who slipped me this note? Were they reading my mind?
Give yourself 24 hours at the Carlton Tel Aviv…it’s just enough time to
…start getting hungry for a little more
More Instagram images @tonytelsit
“A lot of people compare Cyprus to a Greek island, but actually it’s nothing like one,” says Vakis Hadjikyriacou, the enterprising Cypriot architect who, along with his interior designer wife Diana, is responsible for transforming a sizeable chunk of the half-forgotten village of Lofou into a low-key but unerringly gorgeous Mediterranean hideaway. “In Greek islands people have to live off the sea, but in Cyprus they must live off the land – Cyprus was made from villages, not ports.”
Most Cypriot villages are tucked behind mountains, but Lofou is one of a handful whose original residents went right for the summit: “They were unafraid of pirates, so they built their villages up here to command a view of the area,” Hadjikyriacou says. But by non-Cypriot standards, this place – a glorious jumble of low stone buildings and twisting lanes baked to a blond glow by centuries of sun – screams seclusion.
The only traffic noise at Apokryfo comes from the occasional jet fighter taking off from the British Sovereign Base Area at Akrotiri – ISIS is keeping the base humming these days. A courtyard and pool are at the center of an ancient stone ensemble of 13 refurbished rooms and houses. It’s all about giving guests a taste of the island’s arcadian hinterland, but in a modern manner. So once you untangle those mercifully paved upswept curls and find it, you can have your satellite TV and spa treatments along with dreamy cobalt-blue stained wood doors and night skies thick with stars.
The village of Kalopanayiotis in the Troodos Mountain foothills is known for its sulfur springs, proximity to a Byzantine monastery and a hotel property on the Apokryfo model.
Called Casale Panayiotis, it unites six independent ancient stone houses of various shapes and sizes. There’s a modern spa and restaurant, and you can take a guided detour up into the Troodos in a jaunty renovated 1950s Bedford British bus.
Less secret than these pockets of posh is that the island is more or less split across the middle. The legendary stomping ground of Aphrodite is the largest island east of the Aegean, but what it really takes first prize for is historical hot mess. This is the ancient isle that Marc Antony gifted to Cleopatra, where Alexander the Great tweaked his fleet for eastern conquests, where Ottoman Turks trounced the Venetians in 1571, and where modern ones swooped in again in 1974.
Turkey still intransigently (and illegally) occupies roughly the northern third of Cyprus while a UN-monitored buffer zone trails like a sad gash across Nicosia, the inland capital that flourished under Venetian rule (their sturdy ramparts are still standing).
Greek Cypriots tend to be stoic about all this — after all Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was born here.
There are traces of Neolithic civilizations in Cyprus that stretch back ten thousand years, and in addition to the remains of their cozy round stone houses, archaeologists have unearthed here a fossil of the oldest known housecat. Some 3,500 years ago, Mycenaean Greeks ventured east from Greece and despite the endless ebb and flow of empires, the cultural character of the island remains predominantly Greek. Prior to the Turkish invasion (prompted in part by a coup in Athens) tourism in Cyprus was all about the beach and there’s still ample reason to go coastal here, but if sprawling resorts like Anassa north of Pafos tempt with creature comforts, they don’t exactly fire the imagination either.
So back to those pirates of yore for a moment: one place where people evidently were fearful of them is Kalavasos, which is wedged between an ancient copper mine and a mountain not far from the main highway that leads to the port city of Limassol. The village boasts (quietly) a minaret – this was an ethnically mixed village before the Turkish invasion – improbably decorated with stone crescent moons and Stars of David. Further evidence that little Cyprus is full of surprises…
Iran Air Deals Ready for Takeoff, the Wall Street Journal has reported. In case a revamped in-flight magazine is also in the works for Iran’s Boeing-buffered embassy in the skies, we’ve conjured this secret memo of stories you might like to see in those pages but probably won’t. Darn (?)
11. HOW I STONED YOUR MOTHER: a conversation with Nikki Nooshan, co-producer of the new hit reality series from Bravo’s Andy Cohen
10. FIFTY NIFTY WAYS to Deceive an American President (Heh heh, just don’t call it cheating!)
by Ghasem Rojani, author of the Man Booker Prize-winning “Of Superpowers and Snow Jobs”
9. ROCKETS IN OUR POCKETS: the definitive mini-guide to family boating in the Persian Gulf
let’s see if that Peter Greenburg guy can do it
8. ESFAHA-HAN! Inside the Secret Comedy Clubs of Persia’s 2nd City
by former U.S. State Dept. Spokesperson Jen Psaki, and some intern at VICE
7. PICTURE THIS: How Our Holocaust-denial cartoon contests do more for youth empowerment than Oprah
Hmm, should we make that one longform?
6. ARE YOU A FRIEND OF NADER’S? The All-In Guide to Persian Gay Sex
by some bear
5. BELUGA CAVIAR FOR KIDS!
Making the pride of the Caspian Sea (or what’s left of it) lunchbox-friendly
4. KULINARY KORNER: our famous recipe for Saffron rice with lamb and Hezbollah sauce
trow that copy editor a bone
3. PERSIAN CONTRIBUTIONS to World Heritage & Culture, Part I: Persian carpets
2. Persian Contributions to World Heritage & Culture, Part II: More Persian carpets
1. HOW TO SUCCEED IN INVADING YEMEN WITHOUT REALLY TRYING
with a forward by Joe Biden
And that’s just Issue One! End memo. cc: Andy Cohen
Yes, Tripquake is about travel but this week we’ve set our suitcases down in the heart of earthquake country…Southern California (two tremors this week and counting!) Which also happens to be the home of Hollywood, so check out some of the Tinseltown vibe before awards season starts, watch here.