Friday, July 30, 2010

Seabourn Dress Codes - How To Put An End To A Beginning

While I understand the final terminology has not yet been set in stone (sand?), there is word that Seabourn is changing the arrangement of the deck chairs as to its dress code.

You may ask what that means.  And I would tell you that it actually means:  Not Much.

There is a vocal minority that insists on there being a formal night on every cruise.  There is a vocal minority that insists there be no formal nights ever.  And then there is a majority that prefer one or the other, but will go with the flow; with the truth being that generally the older guests prefer a formal night and the younger guests do not.

So, as dress codes always seem to bring out the worst in people...and I am fascinated by those who become less than sociable about the way others should be required to dress on account of the social aspects of style...Seabourn is trying to make what has always been obvious to me obvious to everyone.
(Again, did I actually say anything of substance?  Even I am not sure.)

Here is the deal: 

- On Seabourn you always have the option to dress as you wish, save that a jacket for men is required in The Restaurant other than on "Resort Casual" evenings.  There are many evenings which are noted as "Elegant Causal" (and even Resort Casual) when certain guests dress quite formally, if not tux and gown. 

- Now Seabourn will designate one night per 7-13 night cruise, two nights per 14-20 night cruise, three nights per 21+ day cruise where those what wish to dress formally can do so in some sort of unison with likeminded guests (as if practically they don't already do this).  To be sure, guests wishing to dress formally are not limited to those evenings (never have been and never will be).

In other words, substantively nothing has changed from the present situation.  Hence, if you don't want to wear a tux (or a gown) you still do not have to. If you want to wear a tux (or a gown) you still can.  Being that Seabourn never had "No Formalwear Police", this amounts, IMHO, to nothing more than "GIVE IT A REST."

And now I will sit back and wait for the demands that sections of The Restaurant, Restaurant 2, The Club, etc. be cordoned off so that people of equal social stature are segregated by the type of elegant clothing they wear. IMHO, formalwear does not create class...and it better not create a class society on Seabourn.

I can't wait for Wintergarden guests to be told they cannot dine or drink in a particular location because aren't socially acceptable...or what about if that were to happen to you? 

What do you think?  Join the discussion at The Gold Standard Forum.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Yachts of Seabourn - What Is the Seabourn Experience?

Over the past weeks I have been receiving some exceptionally wonderful rave reviews from both new and past guests of The Yachts of Seabourn.  It is interesting because the perspectives of what makes the Seabourn Experience so fulfilling are so different, but all-in-all result in the same conclusion:  Seabourn is the finest luxury cruise experience in the world.

At least once a week I am challenged by a potential or new client.  They tell me that I do not need to oversell or exagerate how wonderful the Seabourn Experience is.  My response is always the same:  If I tell you Seabourn is "that good" and it isn't I lose you as a client and Seabourn loses you as a guest.  But I know Seabourn will exceed your expectations...even after I have told you how good Seabourn is.  Yes, Seabourn is "that good" and we both want to keep you for many years.

What makes me love my job are experiences such as happened this week. 

*One client, new to Seabourn, just returned from the Seabourn Sojourn after I literally was able to have Seabourn find a suite for he and his wife.  It was not a Penthouse or Owner's Suite as he wanted.  But he loved the cruise, the cuisine, the service and, yes, even the standard veranda suite.  And now a family member is booked for a cruise this winter...and so is a friend.

*Another client, a long time Seabourn guest, just returned from the Seabourn Legend...well she is actually in the middle of her continued vacation in Europe...and called me to tell me that the service and cuisine on the Legend was better than it has ever been.

* I received today a DVD video from Seabourn highlighting the Seabourn Sojourn.  Here it is:

If you think the video is overselling or exageration, let me repeat: If I tell you Seabourn is "that good" and it isn't I lose you as a client and Seabourn loses you as a guest. But I know Seabourn will exceed your expectations...even after I have told you how good Seabourn is. Yes, Seabourn is "that good" and we both want to keep you for many years.

I invite you to compare Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas Cruises and to compare Seabourn and Silversea Cruises.  They are all different products, but in the end, neither can CONSISTENTLY provide a truly luxury experience that will exceed your expectations.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Turkey 2010 - Part VII - Villa Xanthos, Islamlar, Turkey - Photos

Here are some some photos of Villa Xanthos in Islamlar, Turkey, near Kalkan and Kas.  And, yes, it is as good (actually better) than the photographs.


Fresh Trout - Grilled with Olive Oil (Note the Raki in the Upper Right!)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Turkey 2010 - Part VI - Paradise Comes to an End?

Our last day was bittersweet as we reminisced about how wonderful the past 10 days had been, but also taking care of the business of getting ready to leave. This included what seems like an ordeal required of every trip I take with my wife: Finding the damn post office to send off the post cards she purchased on Day 4, but thereafter was unable to find stamps and/or a post box.

With that task accomplished my friend and I bravely struggled in the heat (and the effects of the night before) wandering through the tourist part of downtown Kalkan looking for small presents for the young children of the Huseyin family where we will have our last dinner in Islamlar, Turkey. Job 2 done.

Now it is Job 3: Making a ridiculously large lunch with all the food we overbought. This was going to be a kick-back day, but noooooo. Iamboatman was forced into the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove, to make a feast to be eaten poolside where we just enjoyed the absolute quiet, the incredible views to the left of the mountain and to the right of the Mediterranean Sea. Kermit, our tree frog mascot, was present – nicely tucked into the terrace’s sheers which flow in the breeze.

My friend and I got to the exploration of the adjoining property that we had been talking about doing since we arrived. (I guess we were just too busy.) The land to the right of our villa is, well and truly, the nicest piece of land if your chosen view is primarily the water. We actually found the mountain view to be more interesting. And then the “uh oh” moment as we discovered that there were a few villas (some not so nice) that were behind our villa and, more disappointingly, an almost road…and, listen to this, a small street light. “Progress” is coming to Islamlar; slowly, but alas “Paradise” is fragile…but for now it exists. (It reminds me of the old environmental saying, “Take only memories. Leave only footprints.”)

It was then time to enjoy Paradise one more time: a float in the pool followed by a nap on the terrace (which was interrupted by a flock of what I think were parrots swarming a nearby tree) and then packing, a shower and dinner.

We were greeted by the whole family. It was quite touching. I mean my wife could speak to them fluently, but my Turkish is about 12 words (I improved on this trip!) and my friends were even more limited. But friends find a way. Baba made sure we were happy, the wives cooked a great meal and the kids were lurking…just waiting for the hinted at farewell presents (a cool wooden top and an impossible wooden puzzle we all referred to as “Cok Problem” (Very or Big Problem). That’ll keep the wonderful little girl and precocious boy happy.

After dinner we spent some time with the kids and then it was time to head “home” for one last chat by the pool before heading to bead for a ridiculously early departure for the airport.

Our last morning we were up before dawn and made great time to Dalaman…which one would think would be a good thing, but we arrived too early, so we had to kill time (and my friends, bless them, had lots of time to kill because they were flying back to England in the early afternoon.)

Our first flight on Turkish Airlines was fine, departing early (like we didn’t have enough time to kill in Istanbul). After a three hour layover we finally boarded our flight to Zurich on Swiss. Both were typical intra-Europe business class (economy seats with no one sitting in the middle).

Then it was a mad dash for our flight on Privatair (a 737 with 56 business class seats operated for Swiss) to Newark. We had 35 minutes to get from the shuttle bus (of course we didn’t get a gate when arriving in Zurich), through security, take a train to the international terminal, then through Passport Control. We made it. (I must, however, relay a classic moment for me: We arrive at the gate and my wife says, “We must be the first people here.” I looked at her puzzled and said, “Ummm…Everyone is already on the plane!”)

The service onboard was excellent, the food was fine, but the seats were sort of 1995 style where they are pretty impossible to find a comfortable position and if you want to stretch out you are essentially slid down to the floor (which is not where I want to be). As such I didn’t sleep much on this almost 10 hour flight, but did watch three movies on the portable video system that is handed out shortly after departure.

Upon arriving in Newark: Our luggage!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Turkey 2010 - Part V - History, Markets and a Big Mistake or Two

After our “busy” day in Kas, we decided to do nothing the next day. But me being me, I had to do something. Being Sunday, my friend and I drove into the village of Akbel for the weekly market and had a good stroll around (taking all of 15 minutes). We picked up some fruits and vegetables and then stopped at a cheese merchant where I bought some rather salty sheep’s milk cheese and a very mild goat’s milk cheese which is ubiquitous in this area. After our purchase I saw a large garbage can filled with something white. It turned out to be the most flavorful, thick and rich yogurt I have ever tasted.

Then we stopped at the local shops to pick up some bread and wine. I wonder why it is so easy to purchase wonderfully fresh and tasty loaves of bread for about 25 cents in the middle of almost nowhere, but are charged $2.00 for a loaf of tasteless, preservative laden, bread at home.

We decide not to make lunch but to have takeaway. So we head up to Place of Huseyin figuring they would be open for lunch. No such luck. But just as we were sitting in the car figuring out where to go, that pretty young girl with the wonderful smile comes bounding up from her house quickly followed by Baba (Huseyin) and his brother’s wife. Place of Huseyin was now open for lunch! We order kofte, salad, chips and eggplant and have a beer while we wait. But, of course, this is Place of Huseyin, so I assume babysitting duties – rocking the 4 month old girl in her stroller while I enjoy my beer and the view.

We take our tray of food (we have to bring the dishes back) and sit poolside at the villa enjoying a wonderful lunch. Time for some reading and a nap (it is all such hard work). Oh, where to go for dinner to celebrate one of our friend’s birthday? I know Place of Huseyin!

We arrive for dinner and explain we have a birthday. No problem. Baba will get us pasta. Huh? Is that some sort of weird village tradition? No, a quick phone call to his friend (it does seem out of place having Baba whip out a mobile phone in such a rustic setting) and he explains pasta means cake. I order sea bass rather than the trout. It was good, but not as good as the trout.

Off to the sitting area for birthday cake and a drink. And, once again, the family joins us. Now I know I can amuse the kids with the Teeter game on my phone. The pasta was excellent.

Monday, after breakfast, we headed off to explore the ruins at Xanthos and Patera (the birthplace of St. Nicholas). It was far more interesting than I had thought it would be.

At Xanthos, almost as soon as we stepped foot onto the site an older man speaking broken English approached us and started to explain Xanthos to us and explaining it went through 3 different periods: Lycian, Roman and Byzantine with the two older periods ending with mass suicides rather than being captured. We liked this man who had a dry sense of humor, so we allowed him to lead us around. He repeatedly reminded us that all of the relics (jewelry, etc.) were taken to London…even, he joked, the water from the Roman pool. There were two different water systems: Lycian wells and Roman clay pipes. Both systems relied on the water flowing from the mountain in Islamlar rather than the Xanthos River.

But the most interesting part of Xanthos was watching the archeologists at work. Some with hand tools, one with a brush and heavy equipment moving newly uncovered blocks of marble (local) and granite (imported by the Romans). It was also a bit disappointing to learn that the large areas of mosaic tile have been discovered, documented and then covered over because tourists started to steal the tiles.

Before we departed, we gave our "guide" a tip.  When we reached the car he was sitting under a tree with two beers and a big smile.  We were all happy.
Then it a short drive to Patera and its fairly large amphitheater and other buildings which are being restored…and we watched as they formed the blocks that were missing out of a white concrete right on site. But as the heat was oppressive it was a short visit. I think this site is just now being developed for tourism as there aren’t even any paths or in place.

Back to the villa for a lunch made up of the tomatoes, cheeses, etc. we bought at the market yesterday. There we make an executive decision – we will drive up the mountain and find a new restaurant. We head off (after the requisite swim, reading and nap periods) and find a trout farm, but no new restaurants of interest.

As we head back down the mountain we see Chops. Curiosity got the better of us after seeing all of the signs (one being our landmark for the turn up the road that doesn’t exist on my GPS. The place looks a bit more upscale than the other places, but I am put off by the television being on. The menu looks OK, but it is significantly more expensive than the other restaurants in Islamlar. We hem and haw, but decide to stay. BIG MISTAKE. The portions were small…much smaller than the other restaurants and, while the food was not bad, it was just so very ordinary. High prices, small portions and marginal food are not a good combination.

My wife decides the best thing to do is stop by…you guessed it…Place of Huseyin for a nightcap. BIG MISTAKE (but a good one!). Our disappointment in Chops was quickly forgotten as the family arrived, we talked and drank…and drank...and had a fun time. We said good night, promising to return the next night (our last in Islamlar) for dinner.

The party continued until…well, to be honest, I don’t have a clue!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Turkey 2010 - Part IV - What to Write About?

We decided to do nothing the next day. As I strolled out to the pool to drink my coffee (boy do I wish something other than a mini-French press was provided), I heard goats…quite a few of them. I looked over the low wall and there was a herd of them eating away (as were two sheep). A local woman with a perfect stick appeared and after saying hello (merhaba) she slowly sent them off. I don’t have a clue where they came from or where they went as we are literally on a cliff.

After hours of doing nothing my friend said, “What are you going to do? You have nothing to write for your blog.” Another few hours went by and then we hear a motorcycle…not coming up the “road”, but from where the goats were in the morning. Wait a minute. I know that guy. He runs Pinarbasi; the first restaurant we ate at!

We cannot understand each other very well, but we do figure out how to have a beer together by the pool. We talk about two different things believing we understand each other. We think he is looking for a lost goat or sheep, but in reality he is looking for a building site for his new home. At least the beer was cold. And we agreed to have dinner at his restaurant.

As we drive to Pinarbasi we pass Place of Huseyin and they wave. We feel like we have betrayed a good friend. But then again, we have more than one “friend” in the village! I say “friend” because they know we are here for a few days and then probably will never be back (Hold that thought.) Clearly the “tourist” season is quite short and every single meal sold is an important financial gain for these modest and hardworking local people. We know we will be back there on Sunday to celebrate a birthday (not mine).

The greeting party at Pinarbasi consists of two little girls and our friend (I wish I knew his name) hanging out of the terrace telling us to come up (the terrace is on the third floor of a building…with the first two floors being the family’s residence). We are enjoying a wonderful meal and in walks Harry (the caretaker) with a pretty Turkish girl half his age. He comes over to say hello and explain that he was wrong we were not overcharged for the drinks on the gullet (yeah, right). I ask him about his date and he quickly departs our company. You know there is a story there!

After another enjoyable dinner we are bought a round of drinks as a thank you for our afternoon chat. It was then time to have after dinner drinks by the pool. And we actually made a plan. We are going to Kas, the largest town in the area tomorrow.

A leisurely morning (what else?) and then a drive to Kas (pronounced “cash”). There is some serious road building as Kalkan ends and also as Kas begins, but in between it is a very windy and narrow road which changed in elevation as quickly as the hairpin turns came upon me as I drove. I had the bonus of a very aggressive bus driver tailgating me and then trying to pass a truck and me at the same time…on this crazy road. (I did everything I could to let him pass me and, fortunately, he eventually did.) The view, to the extent I could look at it, was spectacular with a number of islands popping out of the sea. We were very close to Greece, for at one point I received a text message about phone charges on the Greek mobile system.

We arrive into the outskirts of Kas and catch up with the crazy bus driver (that was a lot of effort on his part for no reason!) and following him into the town center. This seaside town unfortunately doesn’t really have any great interests as it appears to also be a victim of too much development. But, of course, my wife immediately finds some shopping to be of interest and I am now the proud owner of 9 meters of some very pretty Turkish fabrics that will eventually be turned into covers and pillows and ??? This affords me the opportunity to carry the bags of fabric back up the hill to the car. (Finding a place to park was a bit of a challenge.)

After a bit of a wander we find a place for lunch. It was OK, but did afford us a very nice view of the marina and surrounds. A bit more shopping (with an unusual necklace purchased for my wife) and we found ourselves resting in the pretty intense heat in a waterpipe bar. Pick your flavor and pick your drink and relax…which the four of us did while my wife puffed away.

As we walked back to the car we pick up some provisions. It seems I am, once again, the chef for the evening. I am making lamb kebabs, garlic yogurt, a nice salad and I am giving a shot at making the eggplant (aubergine) with hot peppers and tomatoes.

After a drive back and a swim, I am called to duty. I have to cook. The eggplant dish was pretty darn good, if I must say so myself.

Another wonderful day.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Turkey 2010 - Part III - Goats and Mud

Let’s…do absolutely nothing. And for the day we just hung out in, on and about the villa. Some time in the pool. Some time on the deck. Some time lounging in the sun.

OK. What to do for dinner. Once again it was decided to just drive up the mountain and see what feels right. We are about to pass a “modest” restaurant, but a very attractively smiled girl is outside and she catches my eye. (OK, it was a cheap ploy to get us in, but it worked.) We walk into this small restaurant and see about seven tables with a nice view of the mountain and valley.

We are welcomed to the Place of Huseyin. We sit down and then…smell that smell. You know the one: Goats! And then we hear the chickens. We look down and there is the family farm. (We kind of overlooked the spring-fed stream running under our deck restaurant which, of course, offers trout…but at the bargain price of 6 Turkish Lira (or about $4.00). What are we in for?

The pretty young Turkish girl is replaced by an older, but friendly, woman who turns out to be her mother. We start out by ordering Turkish salad…and then we engage in the seemingly nightly ritual of “OK. We’ll just order cigara borek for the table…and one of these and one of those.” This, of course, is followed by ordering trout. (We must determine who makes the best trout in the Village if Islamlar, Turkey!) a bottle of Angora white wine and a small bottle of raki (Why buy by the glass when you know you will eventually drink a small bottle’s worth, right? We just may be going “native”).

My starter was fantastic: Fried eggplant (aubergine) with spicy Turkish peppers and tomatoes (Patican Kizartmasi). The other meze were also good. And then we meet the man, Huseyin. He is, as you would suspect, the father, and a bit of a showman working the “crowd”.

My wife goes “outside”…err, out front…for a cigarette and comes back holding a four month old baby. (Never a good sign for a 52 year old man.). Fortunately she gives the baby back and we enjoy our main courses. The trout was one of the better ones we have enjoyed and the kofte (Turkish meatballs shaped like mini-burgers) were also quite good.

We see sitting over in the little after dinner drinks sitting area (ubiquitous in these restaurants) a cute, shy, 8 year old girl. After a bit of coaxing, the girl comes over and my wife reached into her bag of tricks (yes, she really has one!) and gives her one of those little cans where the snake jumps out. Of course the girl runs into the kitchen to show her aunt…and the party begins.

To make a long story short…shorter…we wind up sitting in the sitting area with my friend holding the 4 month old, I am showing the girl that caught my eye, the 8 year old and her 9 year old brother (who is now blowing through fake lips with a noisemaker built in) my phone and the internet (I am not sure dad was too happy about that) and playing Teeter, and the girls are up dancing to Turkish music with the mother and aunt. Huseyin is a bit more reserved and, of course, is tending to the last remaining table.

Remember this evening then next time you smell goat and go to turnaround and leave a restaurant. You never, ever, know.

We awoke early. OK, not that early and headed out to Kalkan for our day trip on the gullet (wooden Turkish boat) that Harry has arranged…with a special discount, of course. We drive through the town and make a right to go down a very steep road to the harbor. (We later find out it is aptly named, “Cardiac Hill”.) Upon arrival we are told there are no towels so I am off to the market to purchase four genuine fake LaCoste, gold trimmed, towels. (Thankfully it was Thursday and the market was open.)

Now I study the gullet and it is the sorriest looking thing I have ever seen. And, to make things even better, as we pull away from the dock, the captain rips the electric line off as he forgot to disconnect it. (We later see him fixing the power to the anchor winch…which consisted of using a kitchen knife to better expose the wires he holds together to engage the motor. This ain’t yachting!!!!)

We actually have a bit of an early start, so we are ahead of the gullet armada. First stop was Mouse Island (because it looks like one, not because of any infestations.) It is small and stark, but has a very pretty cove…except for the garbage unfortunately left by others. We have a quick swim and then head over to Mud Bath Beach. (Getting the feeling the names are for English speaking tourists?)

We swim to a pretty beach with the captain and he has a large bowl with him. He leaves for a moment and returns with the bowl filled with a gray mud and without asking starts rubbing it all over the women declaring in broken English that it will make them look 10 years younger by tomorrow. (Now, if the husbands had done that you know the response would have been, “Get that *(^ mud off of me!” followed by “Why, do you think I look old?”, but I digress.) He does the same to the men (polishing my friend’s head with the stuff, just to top it off.) He swims back to the boat and tells us to wait until it dries. Which we do…almost.

After washing off the mud we returned to the gullet and, after a beer, were presented with a lovely lunch of fresh fish, cacik (yogurt, cucumber, garlic and mint), salad, pasta, beans, carrots, a spicy tomato dish and bread. Time for a nap.

Then off to Aquarium Bay and the “feeding o’ the fish” and a third swim. At this spot we can see some of the new villas being built on the water and the tourist areas close by. And then horror: A five minute announcement in Turkish of the activities going on in Kalkan. Gone is any doubt, not that we had any, that our villa in the mountainous village of Islamlar is exactly where we want to be.

We motor back to port and the captain overcharges us for the drinks, but I figure I will let Harry and his special deal figure it out later. A quick stop at the butcher for some lamb chops, the green grocer for the veggies and the supermarket for a little of this and that, and we are back in Paradise for the evening.

Our evening entertainment: Watching Midnight Express. Yes, I will pay that speeding ticket.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Turkey 2010 - Part II - Oh, What to Do?

Our Roman column lined, blue tiled, pool with a beautiful limestone decking will be our primary hangout, day and night. To the left is a truly beautiful mountain towering above us…and we are towering above the town of Kalkan, Turkey (which is straight ahead and to the right)…but far enough away that we actually cannot see the town, but the Mediterranean Sea and a few small islands. The one obstruction is a neighbor’s house (which we knew was there when we rented the villa)…which is the only thing keeping the view from being perfect.

After a morning of floating in the pool (and not even thinking about our lost luggage) my friend and I ventured into the only little market we know (we stopped there with Harry for two seconds to pick up some ekmet (bread) the night before). What a shocker! You would not believe the “road” we have to travel just to get to an actual road. Not even a single lane. Steep. Rutted. Rock-strewn. Narrow. And, just to add sound effects, with brush growing tall in the middle of the tracks. Now I am glad I came at night…because it is much more unnerving in the daylight!

We find the little store, which is much further down the road then we remembered (but, remember, we were in shock just trying to keep up with Harry the night before). We make a few purchases, try to chat with the shopkeeper with my six words of Turkish and sign language, and return to Villa Xanthos with a less isolated feeling, a greater appreciation of the villa, and a great need to get back into the pool for an afternoon soak in the 95 degree heat.

Now it is time for a big move: We move to the beautiful covered wood deck which overlooks the mountain, some of the villa’s grape vines (we try some), and then explore the grounds finding this wonderful little seating area, that little garden over there and such. Harry stops by and recommends a restaurant for dinner. It was the perfect backdrop for a glass or two of one of the local white wines, Doluca, and a rest before dinner. (Oh, this relaxing is hard work!)

We venture out, in the dark, to find Pinarbasi Restaurant up the hill in the actual village of Islamlar. I made a wrong turn and found I was literally trapped in an ally, unable to turn around, and not a clue where this blunder would let us out. Luckily it lets us out right at the restaurant! We are brought up to a rooftop restaurant where we are one of only three tables being served. My wife speaks to the waiter/owner in Turkish ordering various Turkish meze (small plates) and then the specialty of the village, trout. We, of course, order some local white wine, Angora, and raki (the very popular Turkish drink which is similar to ouzo, but mixed with water – to form a milky white drink – with ice). There are trout “farms” everywhere. (I think there are “show” trout ponds and the trout are delivered fresh daily, but it doesn’t matter.) He explains that they place the rainbow trout in salt for at least eight hours, then drizzle them with fresh olive oil and place them on a grill. I am in heaven.

After dinner, it was drinks and talk by the pool. There we meet Kermit, our new tree frog mascot. He hangs with us. Then I decide to call the airport to see about our luggage. Eureka! A celebratory drink (OK, we were looking for an excuse) and we make plans to drive the two hours to the airport because (a) we have very little hope that the airlines will find this place; and, (b) have strong doubts the luggage would be delivered in our lifetime. A drink to the drive tomorrow. (OK, we were looking for an excuse.)

After a leisurely morning and a dip in the pool, we are off to Dalaman. The GPS must be wrong. It is telling us that the drive is a bit over 3 hours. That can’t be right. (Note: NEVER doubt the GPS.) It was a very long, but very interesting drive and one that is far more interesting (and easy) in the daylight.

For example, we pass literally hundreds of greenhouses and cannot figure out why they are there or what they are for. (It was a government program that backfired wherein people were encouraged to buy a few acres of land to raise tomatoes using cheap government loans. The problem: there were so many tomatoes the bottom fell out of the price and they have been pretty much abandoned.)

Another example: In one small area there are roadside stands with stoves spewing black smoke with silver pots on top. What were they and why only there? It comes to be that they are selling corn which is grown in the area. Now, who would buy hot corn in 110 degree heat is another thing. And a thing I have no answer for.

After about 2.5 hours driving through beautiful and interesting countryside we see a sign for the airport. And then we are there. And the airport is much larger than we thought. But more importantly: our luggage was there.

We were going to head to Fethiye for lunch. We had been there on the Seabourn Spirit on a previous Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise and had a nice time there (we actually met up with some of my wife’s family who were on holiday from Scotland). But with the ride being an hour longer than anticipated and a rather leisurely start we changed plans…as we do. Instead we headed to Gocek, which I remembered as a sleepy little marina town where we disembarked our gullet (a wooden Turkish motorsailer) my wife and chartered back in 1994.

Have things changed! Gocek was still sleepy, but not little. The marina was filled with yachts, gullets and small boats, over a dozen restaurants and lots of shops lining a pedestrian walking mall. We walk until we find that right restaurant. And there it is. Nicely white, tableclothed, tables under huge trees with a view of the yachts. We order a nice lunch, asking about the fresh fish of the day. (If you didn’t know, ordering the fish of the day in Turkey is one of the world’s great rip-offs. The same fish that costs you $5 on the menu can cost you literally$50 if it is the fish of the day.) We pass on the fish of the day, but have a lovely lunch and a walk-a-round.

Back in the car and a *(&# 270 Turkish lira ($150) speeding ticket later (and I wasn’t speeding) we arrived home. I know, you are thinking, “Why didn’t Iamboatman fight the ticket and complain it was the car that just passed him?” I have two words for you: Midnight Express. Discretion was the better part of valor.

We try a different restaurant, Mahmut’s, which is just around the bend (there are no corners) from the place we ate the night before. We find they are just as friendly and do some dished better and some not as good as the place we ate the night before. The trout is grilled very delicately. We like it a bit better. Mahmut’s has a special lamb dinner experience on Wednesdays but are told the place gets crowded as they ferry people up from Kalkan for the evening. We decide we don’t like the idea of a crowd, but that maybe we should check out Kalkan and, besides, we can do a proper shop for groceries…and wine.

After another evening of chatting by the pool and a morning of chatting in the pool, my mate and I head to Kalkan armed with a list of food to buy and a desire for finding something interesting. Oh, yes, we must also find the harbor because we have hired a gullet for Thursday (I pause: what day is it? I don’t want to miss Thursday.). We find Kalkan and the harbor. The problem with Kalkan is that it is a resort town filled with people paying far more than we did to merely experience a town filled with people that are paying far more than we did. We provision up, finding a good butcher as well. We also stop at our “local” market…just to support our friends (actually they had the kind of nuts we liked and couldn’t find them in Kalkan).

I make a lunch of cigara borek (cheese filled filo sticks), lamb skewers and kofte (spicy lamb mini-burgers) with a salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and olive oil. It is late afternoon, so we consider it “linner” (Homer Simpson’s definition of the meal between lunch and dinner…just as brunch is between breakfast and lunch.) No dinner tonight. Yeah, right!

During our afternoon, my mate and I contemplate the mountain to our left. We see to the far left at the top some structures and wonder how we can get there to see them. Walking is NOT an option. It would take days and especially in the rugged terrain at 100 degrees plus we probably would die.

So now it is dinner time and we decide to just go out for a salad somewhere. I insist we just drive and I will find the right place. (I love to do this…and almost always get it right.) I find Uzum Bistro. The name Bistro makes me cautious, but I figure the signage is classy, so this just might be a bit more upscale (hardly a measure here!). We turn off the paved road and down a gravel track. If we didn’t have our gravel track to navigate this would seem challenging, but now it is not a problem at all. As we drive we see the sights on the far side of the mountain we had been contemplating. We did it. We made it to the mountaintop.

The owner of Uzum Bistro greets us at the entrance to a lovely garden with an incredible view that towers over our villa, which is in the distance. He pours some wine and raki (and it is a good pour) and takes our order…that just seems to grow beyond a salad. He then advises that his wife has just left for Antalya so it is just him as waiter and cook, so it will take some time. We are very good with that, as the sun sets over the mountain top. Then we hear a motorcycle. The neighbor’s wife comes to help him out. We like this place.

He tells us that he has villas that he rents out to British honeymooners and we see them below us as we enjoy the view, our friends and the food. And, of course, there was Zeytin, his dog. Very large, very mellow and our guardian for the evening. My favorite dish: pickled seaweed (I forget the Turkish name for it.)

As we finish our dinner the power goes out everywhere. We come back to the villa and I put on my Slope Brook Farm hat with LED lighting (I come prepared!), find some candles and, as you do, we have drinks by candlelight by the pool.

At 3:30 a.m. the power comes back on (I am awakened by the air conditioner…which, curiously, really wasn’t needed with the mountain breeze) and then it goes off. And then it comes on. And then it goes off. And then it comes on again.

We awake to another beautiful day. Oh, what to do? I don’t know. Let’s…

Monday, July 5, 2010

Turkey 2010 - Part I - Where The Heck is Iamboatman?

So where the heck is Iamboatman?

That, it would seem, is a good question.

Some months ago me and my wife decided on taking a holiday with another couple while our kids are sleep-away camp. But what we were looking for was an inexpensive holiday; not a cheap one. A “value” holiday. So, to that end, we looked at this and then at that, but they all seemed too expensive.

Then we started looking at villas in Turkey as my wife has a true connection with the country and loves to speak and eat Turkish. (Remember just a few weeks ago when we were in Scotland at a fish & chips shop in Alness for a haggis supper and she had a conversation with the owner…in Turkish…because he was Turkish. She has a Turk magnet somewhere in her soul.

Anyway, after searching the internet we found that most decent villas in or near the normal areas were either too expensive or already booked (mostly the latter). But then I found Villa Xanthos in Islamlar, Turkey. (Where? We will get to that later.) The photos were breathtaking; the description lovely; the price perfect (£1,500 for 10 days during peak season…split between two couples). But was this too good to be true? I had great distrust because I am emailing some guy named Harry somewhere in the internet world who says he manages this property. Yeah. Sure.

So I speak to the owner, Anthony, and convince myself that Anthony is the owner and that Harry really does work for him as the property manager. And now I need to figure out how to make a deal that gives me a bit of protection while accepting a bit of risk. And Anthony is cool with it. (OK, this is really sounding too good to be true, so it must be a scam…Right?)

Now the fun begins. Where the heck is this place, Islamlar, and how do you get there without breaking the bank? Somehow I find I can get two business class seats to Dalaman, Turkey, but I must fly from Newark, New Jersey on LOT (Polish Airlines) to Warsaw, Poland and then on LOT from Warsaw to Istanbul and then Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to Dalaman…with three hour layovers between each flight…and then drive (in the middle of the night) for two hours to Islamlar.

And then I need to rent a car. I want a four door car, with comfort, automatic transmission and air conditioning in a place that is a 1.5 hour flight from Istanbul. And I find it at a great price. This is just too good to be true.

As an added bonus, I am told that Harry has to meet us at a petrol station outside of Kalkan because otherwise we will never find the place. (Oh, did I mention the villa has no address?!)

Now the adventure begins…A 9 hour flight to Warsaw with a 3 hour layover that I thought would be a disaster (thinking kielbasa, perogies and vodka on an ancient plane to a dreary airport and a lousy lounge). I was wrong. The plane was old, but business class had brand new, comfortable, seats; the food wasn’t bad and, listen to this, the flight attendants were incredibly charming and nice…like the good old days. And the airport (Chopin) is brand new, small and attractive one with a pretty nice, if not luxurious, lounge.

And then the plane to Istanbul breaks. Now what? We hear that old story that they are going to get another plane. You know the one: the one that either doesn’t arrive or takes five hours to get there. LOT comes through again and we are off on a smaller plane (an Embraer with 2-2 seating…and only six business class seats designated by only a red headrest) that was new, clean and only an hour delayed. So we arrive, clear immigration and head to the Turkish Airlines lounge, catch the end of the Germany-Argentina World Cup match and take a shuttle right to the plane (what a great idea!)

After a 45 minute delay (for no apparent reason) we take off and arrive in Dalaman, Turkey…but our luggage (AGAIN) does not. No problem. It is probably at the International Arrivals building since we cleared immigration, but our bags did not clear customs, so the very nice ground staff takes us there. As expected: No luggage.

We fill out a report. Meet our friends (and their luggage) and dreading the rental car ordeal. You know the one where the car you reserve isn’t available. But it is available and it is brand spanking new. Things are looking up.

It is now about 11PM (2PM New York time) and we have been traveling for 20 hours. And now I have to drive. In this part of Turkey they have very interesting name signs on the roads. THEY DON’T. Fortunately, I have my GPS, so I know I am on “Road” (yep, that is what it is called) for about 15 minutes…and then onto D400 (yeah, a road with a name!)...then a wrong turn, up some mountain pass with no place to turn around…but we double-back, make a u-turn on D400 and we are on a roll…in the pitch black of the rural Turkish night.

We meet up with Harry…and it is about 12:30AM. Harry is an older Austrian man who rides a motorcycle. He takes off, running a red light and we are in the “We don’t know where the hell we are, so don’t lose Harry!!!” mode. Up this little winding mountain road, then a smaller winding mountain road then (you are gunna love this) we make a left onto gravel (huh?) and then a tiny path just wide enough for the car (at least I think it is in the pitch blackness), over a couple of ‘bridges” and then up an incredibly steep slope for about 200 yards, around a bend and then…Villa Xanthos.

We have absolutely no idea where we are, but the place is beautiful and just like the photos. Having nothing to unpack we sit out by the pool and have a drink or two. At 4:30AM we decide it is time to go to bed.

I wake at 10:30AM and look out the window and just say, “Wow! This place is unbelievable. It is nicer than the photos!” On one side beautiful mountains, on the other the Mediterranean Sea in the not to distance and only one neighbor. Life is good…really good.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Silversea Cruises - When Charity Becomes a Cheap Marketing Ploy.

Recently I have tried to not say anything negative about Silversea Cruises, but it just keeps giving me reasons to warn people off.  The latest fiasco is, to my mind, absolutely inexcusable.

Silversea is now making an automatic charge to each guest's onboard account to pay money to the Maruzza Lefebvre D’Ovidio Foundation under the guise that it is a "charitable donation" that may be opted out of if you go to the Reception Desk, once onboard, and advise them you do not want to make the "donation".

I pause and note:  THIS IS NOT A CHARITABLE DONATION.  It is a dishonest way to funnel money to a technically non-profit organization which is headed by the wife of Silversea Cruises chairman...and which, when you click on the Financial Information link it simply states, "Work in Progress". 

I cannot pass judgment on what the organization does or doesn't do.  I have honestly tried to figure out what it has accomplished versus what it's plans are and it is very difficult to figure out.  While it seems it does some positive work, it also seems focused on talking, workshops, round tables, book publication, etc.  In other words, stuff that doesn't really help the people with the illnesses...and, it would seem, probably  with high overhead.  Who knows? 

And, by the way, if you are American your "donation" is not tax deductible because the Foundation has not been qualified as a charity under United States law.  Whether that is simply because it is an Italian entity or it cannot qualify I do not know.  And I cannot tell you if it is of any tax benefit if you are British, Dutch, or even Italian.

Which, alas, raises another point:  Why would you want to donate to an Italian charity rather than a charity in a port you are actually visiting or your home country?  Does the fact you are walking on an Italian owned ship mean anything to you?  I mean the ships are registered in the Bahamas, so why isn't the charity based there.  (Heck, you are technically subject to Bahamian law when you are onboard!)

I also note that there is a very successful charity which many cruiselines promote or assist and you probably know it as the Walk for the Cure.    It is actually Susan G. Komen for the Cure and you get information when you click on the link for, say, Carnival Cruise Lines...not a link to the cruiseline's website (which is what happens when you click on the Silversea link on the  Foundation's site.  When you board you are given information about donating and it is done in a very low pressure, low key, manner. (Nobody will know if you donate or not...unless you want to let people know.)

Compare that to Silversea which puts you in the position of (a) taking the Walk of Shame - I mean who wants anyone to perceive them as uncharitable or cheap; and (b) having to take time out of your cruise to visit Reception to not do something you never wanted to do in the first place. 

Now, with all that said, I have to ask what marketing genius came up with this ploy?  All that Silversea needed to do was say, "Silversea is proud to announce that it will donate US$1.00 for every day a passenger sails on one of its ships.  We hope you feel pride in knowing a small portion of your cruise fare is going to be used for a wonderful purpose."

The reason, to my mind, is simple:  Silversea is in financial distress and it needs every one of those dollars.  I don't know if this new stunt is a way for Silversea to reach into your pocket to save a floundering foundation owned by a relative or what?  But why should any of us have to worry about such things.  I, most cetainly, don't need to further reseach a foundation to see if my client's should be concerned about where their cruise dollars are going.

In the end, it is just another way that Silversea is cheapening its product and making me concerned that what you saw yesterday is not what you will receive today...and most unfortunately probably is not near what you will receive in a year from now

But, heck, feel good because you are paying extra for dinner in one of the specialty restaurants and now for the chairman's wife's foundation. Yuck.