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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

what a lovely surprise !

I won a contest ! Several spas in Doha held a competition for the best answer to what makes a great spa. The winner would receive a year's supply of free facials at Secrets 974 spa. I wrote a little blurb and sent it in last minute. Apparently my email was detailed enough and was voted top answer so they picked me !

What a super surprise and so I booked myself the first facial this Thursday ! I have not tried their facials but did one pedicure there which was good. 

I have not really tried out the spas in Doha due to the vast price difference compared to Asian rates. In Malaysia, going to spas were fairly typical as there are so many and prices are very affordable. Manicures cost as little as RM 30-40. Most of the spas in Doha are within 5 star hotels which explain the high prices. 

This is the Four Seasons in Doha.

image via here

They have hot, cold and motorized lap pools with bay windows overlooking the Corniche. 

image via here
Six Senses spa in Sharq village is touted to be the most luxurious and pricey of spas. I took a peek once and was very impressed. Here is a photo of the welcome lobby.

The gym is open to members and they have taichi classes, yoga and prayer rooms. A full day treatment program sets you back at least QR 1,000.

The W Hotel Bliss spa looks nice too. It has modern and funky interiors like their hexagonal pools. 

The other hotels with spas include Angsana at Grand Regency and Juala at Grand Hyatt. 

Secrets 974 is not housed within a hotel but along the main road of Salwa Road. A basic pedicure there costs QR 90 and they appear to have a good range of massage treatments but I don't know the range of facial products they use. I guess I will find out later in the week.

image from Secrets website
Glow American Salon is another along Salwa Road, and they are popular with expat ladies for their hair cuts and spa treatments. I did try their facial once and it was very thorough. The lady had deft hands and expertly handled my problem areas. The product line is french label Esthederm which was so good, I bought the moisturiser.

Have a great day !

Monday, August 30, 2010

Custom Art Installation

A month ago I blogged about not finding the right birthday present for T. After much research and random surfing, I came across this American artist who does wire art works by pure chance. Bart Soutendijk is an artist who creates drawings with wires and he took custom orders via his website.

His work has been exhibited mostly in the US but earlier this year, was shown in Palestine. The website Wirewallart showed some of Bart's work . This is titled Jazz Funeral at an art exhibit at the Masur Museum in LA.

This one was exhibited in the Fort Smith Convention Center, AR.

I found the work very interesting and I always liked charcoal etchings or outlines in black and white, simple but effective. He explains his work on the website :

I work to simplify an image with my art.. Making a line drawing of an object is like undressing it. I ask myself: “What is it about this image that’s unique.” Then I strip away the lines that aren’t required to convey that “uniqueness.” I use line to capture the feel of the image, and wire emphasizes that line.

The final work — after I compose the drawing and make a wire model — is a free-hanging sculpture made of painted steel rod. No colors. No tones. No paper. No frame. No line-thickness fluctuation. Just a line drawing in space. You can’t get simpler than that. 

My next task was to find the perfect photo for Bart to transform into art for me. I thought first of a skyline, perhaps one of KL twin towers and they would look impressive especially in outline. The problem was,  that was in the past, I knew I wanted this to represent something else. Something that would represent the present or the future.

My lightbulb moment came a few days later, when I saw one of our framed pictures. This is a picture taken of stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka, the place we both love and hope to spend a lot of time in.

After deciding on the picture, things moved along. It was easy getting in touch with Bart via email and telling him what I wanted. I specified the size and sent him a photo of the stilt fisherrmen. He wrote back almost immediately with a quote and a preliminary drawing.

This was his initial drawing.

He made it into 3 separate pieces so I could hang them individually or arrange them differently. When placed right next to each other like this, the size of the work was 20 by 40 inches.

Besides making a minor addition to the drawing, I was very happy and could not wait for the final product to arrive. Keeping this a secret from T was not easy.

Bart said he would have it sent end August and true to his word, it landed on my doorstep just a week after T's birthday. He was super happy with it and it went on the wall immediately.

This would definitely be something we would treasure for a long time. Thank you Bart ! 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Made in Turkey Hammam Towels

Have you been to a hammam? I have, first time ever was in Egypt and it was quite an experience. There were 4 of us, all girls, backpacking at that time. Our sense of adventure led us all to try a traditional spa which we thought would be soothing and a sweet ending to our two week holiday. That was the opposite of what we got. For starters, we were all told to strip down to our birthday suits and one by one, was man-handled by this nubian woman built like a house.

It was very bizarre but after the whole treatment, I remember that my skin felt like baby skin but I wouldn't go back there again. When I saw people entering the old school hammams in Turkey, I wanted to scream out DON"T DO IT ! Even the locals don't go into these places, they are not exactly the most hygenic places and if you want a real visual, think of the scene in Borat where he was wrestling in the hotel room with the big naked guy.

I think you get the idea.

Anyway, these days, modern hammams that are in hotels and spas are less disgusting and I found myself in one not too long ago, in KL. The ladies were very gentle and the massage at the end was conventional and extremely relaxing. I blogged about it ages ago here.

Walking around the bazaars, we noticed plenty of towels for sale, big fluffy cream towels that were pure cotton and dye free. They were priced between 30-50 liras ( about USD 26), organic ones cost 3 times more. We bought some but also noticed a different range of towels that were thinner. The shopkeeper explained that these were towels used in turkish baths and were also great for the beach because of their high absorbency and were so thin, they dry quickly.

The small sized hammam towel was a good size for me when I wrap my hair up after a wash. As I picked out a few at 12 lira each, we thought we might as well get a few more for when we build our dream beach house.

At 25 lira (USD 16) each, we bought 6 in 3 different colours, turquoise, tangerine and oatmeal. The design is very simple, with a thick vanilla stripe at the end and is finished with hand knots.

I have been using the smaller towel to dry my hair and it's just brillant. I use it as a turban to wrap my hair and it is so lightweight. Wish I bought more now especially when I saw the prices that are charged by online stores for similar towels.

These ones come from Laviva Home and they cost USD 55 each. The designs are more detailed than mine but that's what you pay for I guess.

ScentsandFeel has these ones in their catalogue

Pretty for the pool but costly, between USD 54-65 and over USD 100 for those with additional embroidery.

These ones on Le Souq are the cheapest that I have found online so far. They sell them at 18 GBP (about USD 28).  

I like the ones we got, especially because of the texture and muted organic colours. You could travel with them because they are so light and use them even as a blanket or sarong too. Maybe as a baby travel blanket ?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Food Tour continues

For some reason, the walking tour has turned the meal sequence backwards by starting first with pastries, sweet desserts and we were told, the main course will be our end point. I had no problem with that given my frustration of never ever having enough room for dessert after heavy meals.

So after the candy store, we were led to Istikal St, a long main street that is slowing turning into high street with modern fashion chains and run of the mill coffee joints like Starbucks. Virgin Megastore is opening up there, taking down a old historical building with it and more plans are feared to be in place that will remove part of history .

Inci is one establishment, it is housed within a famous old building ( ottoman era ?) that is slated for modernisation. The man behind the counter of Inci, claims to have invented the profiterole, Ansel explains with doubt. Still, it was a quaint and you can tell, a very old shop, still churning out their own macaroons and freshly prepared profiteroles. The ceilings soar above you as you step inside and provides a cool shelter from the sweltering summer heat.

We had to have one tasting, and after taking one big scoop admired the consistency of the choux pastry. The chocolate that was generously drowning the pastry was made with real stuff that was unsweetened and slightly bitter. We saw a few more people coming in asking for the dessert and this was not even 11am, so he is obviously very popular.

Another dessert was waiting for us, Ansel said this one was going to be strange but a must try in Turkey. Tavuk Gogsu, when translated means Chicken Breast literally.  A pudding made out of chicken breast? Sounds disgusting so I couldn't wait to try it.

As it turns out, he wasn't joking, this pudding served cold has been in Turkish history books since the 14th century. The Atlantic had an article about the origins of this bizarre savoury dish here.

Apparently chicken is used not for its taste as it doesn't really possess any inherent flavour, but the texture of cooked chicken breast provides the right binding factor in the sugar and milk formula.

A close up might give you some clue of the texture. The brown crust is a result of caramelised sugar and the taste is sweet and well milky with no trace of chicken, thankfully.

The rice flour that is also part of the recipe contributes to the stickiness of the dish and it is very close to a Asian local street food called Muar Chee. For those who know it, it is also made of rice flour and sugar but tossed in peanuts.

This photo was taken from here and you can also find the recipe.

A short trot took us to the next stop, a hole in the wall coffee shop Mandabatmaz. Apparently it means "So thick a cow cannot sink in" .

This photo from Istanbul Eats shows the father making the brew but we got the son that afternoon, who also made a mean cuppa. I ordered my coffee with medium sugar while T wanted his with less.

You can see how viscous the coffee is and believe me, it was thick and strong. Unlike the watered down versions that I have been served in the past few days. It was so good, we went back a few days later, albeit getting lost for about 1 hour, and had another hit. 2 cups of the strong brew cost 5 lira.

There are a few more stops to the tour, but I will continue another day. It's almost the weekend and hope you guys are having a good week !

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Food Tour with Istanbul Eats

Two foodies started a website celebrating Istanbul street food about 2 years ago and just over 2 months back, published their first book by the same name. What stood out about the website and the book was that these guys were passionate about the Turkish traditions and foods and the reviews were their personal,  honest opinions.

There were no review ratings by the public, or annoying advertisements. They were not touting to be food experts but just food lovers who have canvassed the city and sussed out the best and most unique flavours that Istanbul had to offer. They make efforts to find out the history behind the shops and seek old family run places that who knows, might not be there in a few years. Some of the reviews are not even of restaurants, but of mobile carts operated by old men and their wives in the backstreets. It's where the locals go get their lunch sandwiches and menus don't exist.

I had the inkling that the eating tour we signed up for with these guys would be filled with anecdotes and quirky facts and I was not wrong.

We met at 9.30am, or just after because we got lost trying to find this street Ansel said he would be waiting. The location was in Cihangir Square, where the Firuzaga Mosque stood. A tram ride from the old city of Sultanahmet brought us to a few streets close to the destination. As we were not prepared for a 15 walk uphill to his meeting spot, we hopped  into a cab but no one heard of this mosque. I figured that there must be thousands of mosques around so we can't presume they know all of them. Then I found out that the Firuzaga Mosque was the misnamed the Cihangir Mosque so that's why we drew blank looks from the drivers.

Here's the cafe under the mosque and A is wearing the white cap.

The coffee shop is like any hawker stall in Asia, simple, run down and fuss free.

Near where we sat, there was a marble slab that was rectangular and about the size of a medium sized table. According to Ansel, there is a traditional ritual where they lay the deceased on this stone as part of the funeral ceremony and to day, is still being used for that purpose.

Ansel pointed to a empty table under a big tree and unveiled the first meal of the day. He had gone to buy some local pastries or Borek and Simitci for us to sample. The table we sat at, was in a cafe that operates outside the mosque. They brought us some local teas and we tucked into the boreks, one filled with cheese and another with spinach. A local breakfast item, he says and though I already had breakfast at the hotel, could not resist its salty, slightly greasy treat. The other pastry, or Simitci is like a Pretzel, sold everywhere in carts along streets. It's slightly soft and salty with generous sesame seeds on top.

They only cost 1 lira each and goes great with coffee and jams.

After the teas, we strolled up to a deli well known in that area for Turkish cheeses, olives and prepared food items like stuffed peppers and salads.

We were given a cheese tasting and I enjoyed the smoked cheese so much we bought some back. The product were all locally made and comes from all parts of Turkey.

He didn't speak a word of English so thankfully A was there to translate. 

Next stop was for a drink at the pickle shop. This has been around for 3 generations and they pickle everything. 

The juice was as you can imagine, very sour but refreshing.

The walk after pickle juice stop took us through the residential areas and since A was a restoration expert, explained the architecture and pointed out ancient walls and buildings along the way. The cobblestoned roads were winding and narrow but people were streaming everywhere. Istanbul is a busy place, over 10 million live in this city and A said, you never feel alone here.

We walked through a food market and were tempted by the fresh fruit and produce. The shopkeeper cracked open a fresh walnut and we were sold! Bought ourselves half a kilo of walnuts for a snack.


Just past the fruit man, we stopped at a candy store. 

A explained that the son of the original owner now runs the place and they still make turkish delights the traditional way. The father was fortunately also around and smiled as he offered us some almond marzipan. It was delicious.

The jams stocked on the shelves are also home made and in vats from the Ottoman ear, 150 years old.

This little shop has been photographed and written about by magazines and newspapers as far as New York. The son was eager to show us the framed articles on the wall about his father's shop.

They make cherry, orange, pomegranate and even quince jams so we took back a bottle of T's favourite flavour - quince.

Will post more about the tour again later. For now I am going to make some lunch !

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rooftop Envy

The best views of Istanbul were from the roofs and there were plenty of rooftop bars and restaurants to choose from. T recalled that when he was last here, 25 years ago, roofs were poor man's rent. As a young backpacker, he used to pay a mere dollar to sleep on them and now the same roofs are prime property.

Hotels and restaurants with terraces competed for your attention, and of course some won hands down. Mikla was my favourite, it is also the highest point in the part of town called Beyoglu. The bar and restaurant was on top of a hotel Marmara Pera.

We went there first for dinner and though quite pricey, was well worth it. I had the lamp chops with pomegranate molasses and T had cherry-wood smoked lamb loins served on pinto bean mash, which were outstanding. I finished off with a Granny Smith souffle with creamy vanilla ice cream while T, who usually skipped sweets, ordered the Mastic and Turkish Coffee Millefeuille with Raspberry Sorbet just to see how it turned out. Mine was superb but T's was very unusual but still yummy.

We went back a second time, just to have cocktails at the bar and watched the sun go down behind the Golden Horn waters and the mosques in the old city. The bottles at the bar have the best seat in the house.

The sun went down only at 8pm every night and even after the blood red ball of fire goes down, the sky maintains a blue azure glow for a while before the city lights up like Christmas.

On a different night, we were directed to another bar/club/restaurant called 360. This bar was only on the 8th floor but the terrace provided a panoramic view of the old and new city surrounding it. The interior was   industrial meet chic modern.

It was on top of Misir apartments which itself looked very handsome.

The terrace was massive and if you booked, you could have a seat at one of these funky round booths overlooking the views.

The menus themselves were funky, with graphics like a comic book. On the inside cover, it warned people from trying to nick it, offering to sell to interested customers at 25 lira instead.

Bets seat in the house? Well as I scanned the surrounding roofs, I saw a deck chair placed on one of the neighbouring buildings. 

( bottom right of the photo)

During the first few nights of our trip, we spent it in the old city of Sultanahmet, close to the major tourist sights. We spotted the Seven Hills restaurant and went  up there for dinner one night. Food was simple but delicious.

The waiters wheeled the mezze buffet cart around and you pick whatever you fancied.

We also ordered some freshly grilled black snapper as a main, which they kindly serve after de-boning at the table.

The sights in the old mosques and palace were very lovely and restored brillantly. It was hard to imagine but some of the doors and tiles were from 2 BC.

Pity some people think it's ok to vandalize these historical buildings.

The washing of feet area is centuries old too, look at the indentations.