Admit it: you thought all the ruins were in Athens. You thought that Thessaloniki — if you thought about it at all — was a place where there was a lot of good stuff but not much in the way of ancient relics, right? Wrong!
Much as you might like to party like Paris Hilton on a Greek island all summer, you know that there is more to see in Greece than Mykonos. Athens has cultural wealth and sun to spare, but the pull of Thessaloniki is something different. The Greek capital sometimes succumbs to a touristy vibe that is altogether absent in Greece’s second city, just 190 miles to the north. That makes Thessaloniki, which is the capital of Greek Macedonia and named for the half-sister of Alexander the Great, something of a secret.
The city’s past is denser and more layered than a flourless dark chocolate cake and sometimes as bittersweet: Students of Second World War history will recall Thessaloniki as a place whose large Jewish population was decimated by the Nazis. Did you know that this city was home to the largest Jewish cemetery in the Mediterranean until the Nazis destroyed it? It may not seem easy to destroy 300,000 tombstones, but the Germans made quick work of that — and that was the “nice” part. In 1943, virtually the entire Jewish population of Thessaloniki, numbering 46,091, was hauled off to Auschwitz in cattle cars — a couple of which are preserved on the periphery of the city’s train station. There were 19 meticulously organized transfers. Only 1,950 Jews would return to the city of whose fabric their community had been a vital part for more than 21 centuries.
In certain periods in time, it was the one of the highest populations in the city, especially after 1492. The first Jews came around 140 B.C. from Alexandria, the so-called Romaniote Jews. The arrival of almost 20,000 Jewish newcomers deported from Spain, though, was what altered the face of the city. Through their skills and abilities, the (‘Sephardites’) revived the wounded Thessaloniki after its conquest by the Ottomans and contributed to its commercial ascent. In 1870, the 50,000 Jewish residents constituted 56 percent of the Thessalonian population, while in 1941, 36 synagogues were fully functioning. The city’s oldest synagogue burned in the 1917 fire that leveled much of the historic center. The Nazis destroyed all the others save one, the Monastirioton Synagogue, which was built in 1927 and has been beautifully restored. I went inside to take a peek: very light and bright.
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.