Want to go cruising in an American convertible in Cuba? Take a look at Havana from a ’52 Buick for a minute or two (or six or eight). It’s a video road trip!
See how one Havana neighborhood turned a water tank into an art studio, transformed trashed walls into treasured murals, and helped a five-year-old dance to the Cuban beat.
Learn how firefighters who died in duty are given the highest honor- nothing human-built can be taller than their Memorial at the renowned Christopher Columbus Cemetery.
Last Spring, FATHOM became the first cruiseline in over 50 years to provide cruises trips from the US to Cuba.  Victor and I hopped onboard the Adonia in Miami, Florida for one of her early journey’s to the ports of  Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba. Victor put together some mini-movies so you can enjoy a quick trip

Toot Toot. The sound of the train rounding the rails. The horn of a pedi-cab in Quitos or Penang. An author announcing a book coming out! On pre-order now and in stores soon, MY ADVENTURES: A Traveler’s Journey is part muse, part journal. The co-author is the traveler who wants to chronicle his or her adventures.

What chapters do you want to write in the New Year?

You can be the co-author

You can be the co-author

Both mother and father penguins feed the chicks- one of the great memories of a Hurtigruten cruise to Antarctica, (c) Lisa TE Sonne

Both mother and father penguins feed the chicks- one of the great memories of a Hurtigruten cruise to Antarctica, (c) Lisa TE Sonne

Are you ready for Antarctica? Now is the time to book your excursion to the “White Continent” where all the time zones converge and penguins play. With some advance planning now,  you can have  a “Summer” this Winter that includes gorgeous glaciers, leopard seals, and international research centers.

Winter in the northern hemisphere is Summer at the South Pole,  so your January at “the bottom of the world” may be warmer than in the Northeast of the US —- and you may see a chick being fed (by mother or father,) then go take a jacuzzi onboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM.

Check out the latest bargains and savings on the Hurtigruten cruise line.  Norwegians have a rich heritage of great polar exploration, and can share the wonders with those who sign up.

“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” John Muir (C) Sonne


Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”  John Muir

If you are craving portals to beauty, the Magnificent Mountain Loop (MML) of three California National Parks offers travelers uncountable “doors.” In one trip you can enjoy the tree giants of Sequoia National Park, the adjoining wonders of Kings Canyon National Park and the iconic delights of Yosemite.

This year, Yosemite shares the riches of nature and history with a 150th anniversary. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant 150 years ago, creating “the first protected wild land for all time” and the “first state park in the world” according to the National Parks website.

Below are some quotes by past famous Yosemite visitors Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, Ansel Adams, and President Teddy Roosevelt to inspire your own visit. There are also some tips to add luxury to your travel.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” John Muir




According to the National Parks Services website: “In 1871, John Muir, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Poet, and Transcendentalist visited the Mariposa Grove of trees in Yosemite and Muir said to Emerson in the grove: ‘You are yourself a sequoia. Stop and get acquainted with your big brethren.’ ”

Emerson called Muir a “new kind of Thoreau” who gazed at sequoias of the Sierra instead of scrub oaks of Concord.”

Grandeurs of granite walls in Yosemite.

In Yosemite, Grandeur of these mountains perhaps unmatched on the Globe; for here they strip themselves like Athletes for exhibition, & stand perpendicular granite walls, showing their entire height, & wearing a liberty cap of snow on their head.” From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Journal.


In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt requested to meet with Muir in Yosemite, and Muir encouraged him to sleep under the stars- a night that led the protected area to be expanded and transformed into a National Park.

It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.”- Roosevelt

Sleeping under the stars like Muir and Roosevelt may be the richest way to enjoy the nature of the park 24/7, but if you are looking for more pampering nurture in your visit, the Tenaya Lodge offers lovely luxury rooms, concierge services, the Embers restaurant and the Ascent Spa with signature organic treatments. The Ahwahnee Lodge’s legacy dining room is worth at least one memorable meal.  Yosemite Lodge inside the Park affords window views of the Yosemite Falls, and great access to the park’s sites, trails and shuttle system.


Yosemite Riches- your outdoor museum. Sonne

Tenaya Lodge, Fish Camp, near Yosemite

 Yosemite Lodge at the Falls,

Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National Park

John Muir Lodge, Kings Canyon National Park

For those that want to celebrate the resiliency of nature with some personal rushes, OARS is now offering river rafting in the Tuolome River.  (I haven’t yet tried their river trips but hear good things.)

It’s the images of Ansel Adams that have put Yosemite in people’s imaginations for decades, but his words are also an inspiration for how to enjoy Yosemite:   “Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film. Your bright eyes and easy smile is your museum.

                                     -Photos and text by Lisa TE Sonne, Luxury Travel Mavens

One definition of  romantic is “an idealized version of reality.”  The same could be said of top luxury travel.  The chocolates are left on your plush pillow or baked fresh to your liking by a genius chef. Your flowers are abundant fields seen from your privately chauffeured touring car or canvases of Monet seen up close,  or  fresh arrangements delivered to your elegant suite. Your bubble baths are in marble tubs with views and aromatherapy you choose. People want you to be happy.

Romantic travel gifts can be shared experiences of inestimable value per your own values and idealized vision– from observing penguins hatch, or a family of elephants while on safari, to private showings at a jewelry store; from going to remote places to witness ceremonies rarely seen, to securing luxury booth seats behind home plate or in the royal box at a ballet.

Papua New Guinea, Sepik Spirit Boat journey

Your idea of  “idealized reality” may be visiting thriving, healthy environments with vibrant flora and fauna, and indigenous cultures preserving their ways and well-being without global franchises and homogenization.

Arguably, for today’s first-world cultures, sleeping in a five-star hotel and sleeping under a canopy of luminous, infinite stars– are each romantic and are each luxuries.

 The privilege of access can be the key to luxury travel– access to people, places, and experiences. For some travelers that access must be coupled with comfort and expense to be “luxury” — comforts like the bed at the Pierre Hotel in New York (with a Broadway show and fireflies in Central Park) or the butler drawing a bubble bath at Le Blanc in Cancun (after snorkeling with whale sharks) or lunch at the French Laundry in Napa (as a way to enjoy time with dear friends). For others, like astronauts in space or James Cameron heading to the deepest trench in the ocean, unique  “access” may be very expensive, but not at all comfortable.

Point Dume Beach, Malibu (c) Sonne

Sometimes access has little to do with comfort or expense; it is good fortune. I’ve traveled all seven continents and continue to explore in order to share the beauties of the planet– the romantic of the human and natural.  But of course, moments of “wow” and “thanks!” don’t require passports or first class seats; they can be in our own backyard. At a public beach about 20 minutes from my home, I saw a dolphin body surfing a wave. At a lake five minutes from my home, herons,cranes and egrets perform balletic moves whether anybody is watching or not.

Shoes outside a blue tiled mosque in Istanbul,

The magic of the mundane– the extra- ordinary– that sunrise that makes you swell with a sense of divine grace, the arc of the Milky Way that embraces you from afar, a song bird greeting the day with notes that make a tuning fork inside of you hum– these experiences are free, but can feel luxurious.

Romantic travel can be  sharing the Ahhs of Awe. Seeing the synchronous fireflies in Malaysia was a brighter experience for being with my husband. Walking on the Great wall of China was warmer with him despite the winter’s subfreezing wind chill. Seeing the mosques of Istanbul with a childhood friend magnified the memories.  Even an evening stroll at home, may reveal a cloudscape worth watching.

Romantic travel can also be helping others- trying to make “the idealized version of reality” replace meaner versions. Is that taking your love to  the Luxembourg Gardens in Spring surrounded by flowers, or helping build a school  in a far-flung outpost for you love of humanity?

It is a luxury to travel at all– to have the health, the time, the means, and the freedom from other constraints and responsibilities. Sometimes that travel propels us great distances out into the world. And sometimes that travel comes from inside, sitting still where we are,  taking time to awaken our senses- to smell, see, taste, hear, and feel.

Long Beach, California, a winter sunset

To be present can be a luxurious gift.


What is luxury travel for you? What is romantic travel?

-Lisa TE Sonne, Luxury Travel Mavens





Antarctica, Hurtigruten Cruise (C) Sonne

Start of para-sailing, Caribbean coast, Cancun, Mexico (C)Sonne

Dream. Go. Discover. Explore. Set your sails.

Take a leap. Sit still somewhere new. Meet yourself.

Add kindness in different time zones. Share beauty. Create laughter.

Spark an idea. Illuminate.

Whether you want to explore all seven continents or experience  your own neighborhood better, here are some inspiring travel quotes, and some images from my travels.

“Make voyages! Attempt them-there’s nothing else.”

– Tennessee Williams

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ”

– often attributed to Mark Twain

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca

Bilbao Museum, Basque Country, Spain, (c) Sonne


“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. ”
St. Augustine 

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” –Mohammed

Zip-lining, Nicaragua, Austin Lehman Adventures, (c) Sonne





“Adventure is worthwhile.”

– Aristotle


“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

-Helen Keller


” Not I, not anyone else, can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself.” –

-Walt Whitman

World’s largest Hot Air Balloon Festival, Albuquerque, New Mexico (c)Sonne



“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

— Martin Buber


“Three things restore a person’s good spirits: beautiful sounds, sights, and smells.”

-Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot





Moroccan Woman in the Atlas Mountains of Africa, Access Travels trip (c)Sonne

“All life is travel through time and space. Think outside the cube.”
-Lisa TE Sonne



“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

– Maya Angelou





Buddhist, Himalayas, Royal Kingdom of Bhutan, Asia (c)Sonne



“Hitler didn’t travel. Stalin didn’t travel. Saddam Hussein never traveled. They didn’t want to have their orthodoxy challenged.”

— Dr. Howard Gardner


“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves”

– Euripides


“When travelling, kindness can be  the greatest gift, and dearest souvenir.” -Lisa TE Sonne




“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.”        -Anna Quindlen

Lady Astor, Queen Victoria, Gandhi, Charlie Chaplin, Lawrence of Arabia, Kipling, Henry James, Henry Ford, Churchill all walked the grounds and halls before Cliveden House in England became a five star hotel to top the lifestyles of Downton Abbey (c) Sonne.

Maasai walking in Kenya, Africa (c)Sonne

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

– Bill Bryson

Parenting chinstrap penguin,sitting on an egg and a chick  below:






“I  like animals. I like natural history. The travel bit is not the important bit. The travel bit is what you have to do in order to go and look at animals.”

– David Attenborough



“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”                                             – Marcel Proust

After traveling on all seven continents, I saw this dolphin wave surfing at the Pacific beach fifteen minutes from my home. (c)Sonne


“To move, to breath, to fly, to float…to travel is to live.”  -Hans Christian Andersen.

Sonne and a polka-dotted whale shark by Danny Heilprin

-Lisa TE Sonne, excerpts for Luxury Travel Mavens


(c) Lisa TE Sonne, Selects from a book she is working on

All above photos by Lisa TE Sonne. Please contact her for permission to use. Lisa@Sonne.org

Please add your own inspiration and any travel/ exploration quotes you want to share in the comments section below or email them. Thanks!



The yacht named after a former owner, Princess Grace, now cruising the Galapagos via Quasar Expeditions.

Pinch me. I must be double dreaming. I am basking on the M/Y Grace, the yacht given by Onassis to Grace Kelly when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco, the yacht the royal couple honeymooned on.  In every direction I see islands of the Galapagos, one of the world’s great destinations, and a spectacular part of Ecuador, the small enticing country that also shares the Andes and Amazon with travelers that love culture and nature.

Yes, I was dreaming — but dreaming of reality — of the trip I finished yesterday. I am swimming in joyful recollections. The teak and mahogany yacht for the voyage previously entertained Winston Churchill, served valiantly in WWII, and was a moving playground for the wealthy before Quasar Expeditions turned it into a romantic nine-suite vehicle for travelers seeking the extraordinary, far from the Mediterranean and Monaco.

A flamingo looking for shrimp in a Galapagos lagoon.

Onboard our week-long cruise of the southern Galapagos, there was a family of five, a couple in their 30s on their honeymoon, and another couple in their 30s who got engaged while on the paradisical Gardner beach of Santa Cruz Island. Just a few days later with accumulated Grace and Galapagos memories, the two medical professionals actually had the Captain marry them our last night, for a very spontaneous elopement not on the itinerary.

Was it the almost-full moon? The fresh lobster dinner?  All the laughter of the guests, now friends, remembering favorite moments of the trip? A desire to weave the trip’s joys more permanently into life’s quilt? A love that deepened in a remarkable place? The couple added yet another chapter to the romance and legacy of the yacht.

Blue-Footed booby birds and red crabs share a perch not far from playing sea lions in the Galapagos. “Panga” rides from the Grace with a knowledgeable naturalist, would take visitors close to the wildlife. Photo by Lisa TE Sonne

Wild Memories
Many additional cherished memories filled my well-named memory chip of photos from our daily hiking and snorkeling expeditions on different islands with up close views of flamingos, penguins, iguanas, blue footed boobies, mating comarents, newborn sea lions, newly hatched albatrosses, and the finches that helped Darwin form his revolutionary theories about the evolution of life.

It was a privilege to be able to move through the raw and wild movements of nature in parts of the islands without human habitation, but two of my favorite moments came when I stayed in one place and the animals came to me. On our last snorkel, led by the Captain beneath the striking monolith of Pinnacle Rock, I floated gently and just felt awe at the schools of fish shimmering around me, and the shapes of the immersed rocks with bright colored algae and aneomones.

Suddenly two penguins darted toward me, performed twirling twists right in front of me and zoomed off. Then back again. I laughed with glee and was glad my prescription mask didn’t leak when I smiled grandly. The penguins continued to dart around our little band of bipeds for ten minutes and even brushed against one snorkeler who said the bird felt soft.

Galapagos Penguins are the only penguins to live naturally north of the Equator



A different afternoon on the post card -looking Gardner Beach, I sat in the powder-soft organic sand, while Galapagos penguins were swimming in the waters that mingled turquoises and azures. A baby sea lion waddled toward me sniffing like a puppy dog. Somewhere else on the beach, a delightful couple (after several years together) were getting engaged to be married, while the rest of us were engaged with different wildlife.

Six hundred miles of Pacific Ocean from the mainland of Ecuador, surrounded by the life force, I think we were all glad to be able to say “I do” to the Galapagos with Grace.

Photos and Story by Lisa TE Sonne,  Luxury Travel Mavens.com

Cheers to “Beet Cancer” Recipe in the article below.

October in the United States is now providing a different kind of “medical travel” — pink travel. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness, or BCA, and pink is touted to promote awareness. Various travel venues are “tickled pink” to donate some of their revenue in October to related nonprofits.

Two destination stand-outs are Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and San Diego, California (the W, Hard Rock and Hyatt Hotels) according to J Public Relations, which offers the content below, including a cocktail recipe.

If you know of other travel-for-a-cause opportunities, please share them in the comments section below. Please also let us know what you think of these.

From J Public Relations:

“San Diego- Hard Rock “Pinktober”

“Pinktober 2013 at Hard Rock Hotel San Diego | San Diego, CA

Hard Rock goes a bit pink in October to help Breast Cancer Awareness in San Diego Photo from Hard Rock Website

“Stay – Hard Rock Hotel San Diego will outfit select guestrooms with special Pink Sheets, and a percentage of the room proceeds during October will benefit the campaign. The Sleep Like a Rock® bedding features the signature embroidered guitar pillowcases and plush bedding.  Guests of “Pink Sheets rooms” will also receive Hard Rock’s 2013 PINKTOBER guitar pin featuring pink rhinestones. In addition, hotel guests can opt to add a donation of any level to their guestroom bill during their stay.

 “Sip – The property’s retro-chic diner, Maryjane’s, will serve a limited-time cocktail. The restaurant team will wear pink shirts and pink gear every Sunday to promote awareness. They will hand out pink frosted guitar cookies to our hotel guests to promote awareness. They will also offer the cookies to outside guests for a donation.

 “Hard Rock Hotel’s 207 and Float bars will be offering specialty cocktails Flamingo Margaritas, Pink Floyds and Pink Dolphins with 25 percent of proceeds benefitting Hard Rock’s PINKTOBER™ 2013 campaign.

 “Savor – Rock Spa will offer an invigorating 50-minute Pink Sugar Whip body scrub to benefit PINKTOBER™.  To book a spa treatment, guests may call Rock Spa at (619) 764-6930.

 “Shop – Located lobby-level at the hotel, the boutique will feature a variety of PINKTOBER™ merchandise to benefit the cause including PINKTOBER pins, t-shirts, Pink Sheets and more.

 “W San DiegoIn honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the W San Diego is offering a ‘Drink Pink (for a cause)‘ cocktail where 50 percent of the proceeds from October will be donated to the Keep A Breast foundation.  The Drink Pink cocktail is made with Svedka colada vodka, triple sec, lime and cranberry juice.  

“In conjunction with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the W will also be turning it’s ‘W’ logo outside PINK to honor the month and help further spread awareness. Inspiring, iconic,and influential, the W San Diego offers a unique mix of cutting-edge design and passions around fashion, music and entertainment.  

 “Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The beauties of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Photo from the Hotel Terra Jackson Hole website.

“Spur Restaurant & Bar at Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa Hotel | Jackson Hole, WY

 “Throughout the month of October, a portion of Spur Restaurant & Bar’s ‘Beet Cancer’ cocktail will be donated to the Women’s Healthcare Fund at St. John’s Hospital in Jackson Hole.  The ‘Beet Cancer’ cocktail includes:

  • Beet ginger infused gin
  • St. Germaine elderflower liqueur
  • Lemon juice
  • House made ginger syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • Shaken and served up

“CHILL SPA at Hotel Terra Jackson Hole | Jackson Hole, WY

 “Chill for a Cause

 “Join forces with Chill Spa this October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Book a Chill for a Cause treatment and 10% of the proceeds will be donated to the Breast Cancer division of Saint John’s Women’s Healthcare Fund

“PINK Awareness Pink Grapefruit Facial | 50 Minutes $129; 80 Minutes $179: Bring life and vitality to your complexion with a vitamin-rich burst of pink grapefruit and other Eminence Organics Skincare products focusing on hydration.

“Fight Like a Girl Facial | 50 Minutes $129; 80 Minutes $179, Fight bacteria with a deeply purifying facial at Chill Spa.

“Live. Love. And get a Massage | 50 Minutes $129; 80 Minutes $179: Pink out your massage by choosing our specialty treatment this October.  The Live, Love massage is available in Deep Tissue or Swedish massage techniques.”

(End of quoted information from J Public Relations about pink destinations to help Breast Cancer Awareness in October. )


If you know of other luxury venues and destinations that are donating proceeds to Breast Cancer nonprofits, please share the information in comments below.  Do you think these kinds of efforts are a good way to reduce Breast Cancer?

Please also share other opportunities luxury travelers can enjoy while helping causes.

Thirteen is a lucky number if you are in the Hilton Athens in Greece. It’s the rooftop floor with the Galaxy restaurant and bar, offering drinks, food and a wonderful view of the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus.

The Acropolis from the Galaxy restaurant at the Hilton Athens.

The Galaxy’s outdoor and indoor tables are popular with hotel guests and nightlife Athenians, according to the hotel magazine, which interviews successful local artists and entrepreneurs that use it as a meeting spot, watering hole, and a place to swap ideas.

My childhood friend and I sat alfresco with wafting warm breezes at the Galaxy bar balcony to revive ourselves after a day of active input for the eyes and cameras, and before flying home after the Ancient Mysteries, 11-day Mediterranean cruise with the Holland America Line. It was a good perch to pause between travel modes.

The Athens Hilton offers an outdoor pool in a historic region.

When we checked in Oestrisu made us feel warmly welcomed and answered all our questions- –Yes, free WiFi in the spacious marble lobby areas with lots of comfortable, airy, sitting spaces; yes, there is a swimming pool in the building and one outside; yes, the suite would have a marble bathtub and a balcony with a view; yes an  abundant buffet breakfast is included, and yes; we were close to museums, shopping and  easy transport to the airport.

Though the hotel’s large lobby area welcomed outsiders, a room key was needed to take the elevator to the top rooms.  Each lobby floor had original art work to distinguish it. Rooms with Acropolis views were all taken but we were positioned well to appreciate city views and a splendiferous sunrise over hills to start our trip home.

On shore trips we had seen hundreds of ancient columns -upright and reclined  ghosts from the  Greek and Roman civilizations from 2,000 BC on.  Looking up from dinner at the lit row of columns from “The” Acropolis was an iconic capper to our antiquities cruise.

Acropolis translates roughly as “city on the extremity,” often a citadel on top of a steep hill.  One guide told us that “there are over 5,000 acropolises in Greece, but the one in Athens is world famous.” We also

Athens National Archeological Museum

had visited many  great archeological sites in Crete, Rhodes, Corinth, and Napfion but often our guides would tell us about the artistic and artifact finds which were  not there but in museums— in Athens. Now was our chance!

This Hilton has a desirable location in central Athens,  across from a verdant park and near a Metro station. Four Euros buys an all-day Metro Pass, so it is easy to get to the Plaka, Constitution Square, the innovative Acropolis Museum (built with see through floors over an excavation site) and the renowned National Archeological Museum.

Athens Metro is easy- and colorful. Each car appears pre-painted to avoid graffiti.

Not only is the Metro faster than cabs in the often traffic congested streets, the stations themselves can be worth the descent to some of Athen’s modern underworld.  The Acropolis station had displays of artifacts unearthed during excavation for the subway and a private guide was including it in a tour, pointing to a display with a little terracotta horse with wheels and string- a toy in a grave many centuries BCE.

The Acropolis Museum in Athens

The marathon was invented in Greece long ago and my friend and I seemed to be creating a new kind of modern tourist marathon, trying to see as many exhibits as possible in our one day in Athens and absorb the lively street life and people vignettes in between museums.

That night after our view gazing from the Galaxy,  a bubble bath in the suite’s large and deep tub was a luxurious way to soak my limbs.  Immersed, I let some of the trip’s memories soak in while out in the room at the modern wooden desk, my photo chip was downloading visual memories into my computer.

The Hilton Athens  is a “Go To ” place for locals hanging at the Galaxy. For us, it was a wonderful “Go Between” place to cap off our fun cruise of  Ancient Mysteries with visits to Athen’s world class museums, and to relax and rest up  for the long flights home.

When I woke in the morning, the view from our Hilton Athen’s balcony was an exclamation mark of color at the end of a great trip, and a welcoming start to the voyage back to our other lives.

-Lisa TE Sonne, Luxury Travel Mavens

Dawn from our balcony, Athens Hilton

Photos by Lisa TE Sonne, (Except for the Pool Photo and Acropolis View image,  via Hilton)


Turkish lamps and warm hospitality seemed ubiquitous

Turkey is full of fantastical lamps, but you don’t need to rub them to have at least three wishes come true. The luxuries of good eating, shopping, and spa-ing are not new to Istanbul, which has culled for centuries from Europe, Asia, and Africa.  Before we boarded our “Ancient Mysteries” cruise on Holland America’s Noordam, my girlfriend Jamey and I indulged in pleasures worthy of the Sultanas of the 1400s and 1500s.

Ottoman Eats- The Matbah

Part of the Matbah menu featuring Ottoman food, Istanbul

This unique restaurant highly recommended by friends offers culinary time travel. Many dishes were researched from previous centuries, and the 32 Ottoman Empire menu selections are all from the “Kitchen of the Sultan,”—truly palatial for the palette

Enticingly, the menu includes the date of the earliest known recipe of the dish, if it’s known.   For the cold plate, I chose the Karidye Pilakisi (Shrimp Stew), which had the notation, “In 1473, during the month of Sha’ban, the palace bought shrimps for an amount of three silver coins almost everyday.”  Still delicious today, even when paid for with plastic.

For the entrée, it was a tough choice with so many temptations. I narrowed it down to Yufkada kuzu incik, begendili: “baked lamb shank on a bed of pureed eggplant, served in a pastry bowl” with 1463 as the first known recipe (before Columbus sailed!) or Zire-ba (mutencene): “Diced lamb with dried apricots, raisins, honey and almonds baked slowly in an earthenware casserole.” The latter was dated 1300-1463, so I went for the oldest and my taste glands were richly rewarded.

Shrimp stew, an Ottoman dish, Istanbul

The menu credits Ottoman Cuisine as coming from Middle Asia, the Balkans, the Middle East, Mediterranean, and European cooking traditions. It seems that fusion feasts are not new.

The outdoor, upper floor patio setting provided breezes, and as hundreds of birds flew overhead in the sky of pastels, the call to prayers of the muzzeins also filled the air, reminding us of other traditions that have survived the centuries.

Our first day in Istanbul felt complete, and we looked forward to how we would conclude our next day set to explore the standing history of mosques and palaces from half a millennia ago.

The dark pink building to the right houses the women’s Hamam founded in 1556

Spa- Hamam Style

To enjoy the kind of spa treatment that the top harem women and wives and mothers of Sultans enjoyed, we headed to the Ayasofia Hurrem Sultan Hamam, founded in 1556 by Sulieman the Magnificent, and elegantly renovated in recent times. Humams are traditional Turkish bathing houses segregated by gender. Istanbul has several high-end ones – some very old and some part of new high-end hotels.

Over 300 marble pillars support the underground cisterns built in the 6th century. photo by lisa te sonne

This humam is located in the center of the historic district and an unforgettable capper to a day of sight-seeing. Just a few-minutes walk away are the magnificent Hagia Sophia, with both Christian and Islamic beauty; the striking Blue Mosque; the remnants of the Hippodrome; and the underground waters of the Byzantine “Basilica Cisterns,” which were started in the mid 6th century. There are scintilating  treasures for the eyes, mind, and soul, but for the sensual pleasures of the body, enter the Hamam’s marbled and domed sanctuary, also a part of history.

Each visitor is matched with a personal female attendant who leads the way to an undressing room, then to a soothing bathing area. Mine pours warm waters over me from a gold bowl, scrubs me, and massages off layers of the unwanted. She whooshes soft silky soap bubbles over me, and massages me as I am stretched out on a side of an octagonal marble fountain that seems ageless.  My mind releases any worries about current times, and I wonder how closely this resembles how Sultan’s wives were treated centuries ago.

Spa for Sultanas, Istanbul

In the midst of all this pampering, she massages my scalp and washes my hair tenderly, like my mother did when I was little. It is a happy memory, but a small lump forms in my throat.

After more cascades of warm and cold water for rinsing, I am led upstairs two flights to a private room framed by an intricate wooden carving. A masterful massage of perfumed oils ensues, with any remaining knots kneaded out – front and back; top and bottom. I am again offered water or fruit drinks. My attendent beams at me “You are a Sultana!”

Delighted and detoxed, clean and smooth, I lounge near my childhood friend as we each purr contentment under a tall tranquil white dome, a nearby fountain flowing its liquid mantra to relax. When we are ready to head back out the door into the large park framed by iconic architectural wonders, we are handed little bags to take home. Mine has a kese (scrubbing mitten) and kariklar (plastic sandals) with the year 1556 imprinted.

Bazaar  Shopping

Crossroads of consumerism through the ages-Istanbul’s Bazaars

Straddling two continents, Istanbul, once aka Constantinople, is a crossroads of consumerism, from the Silk Road times to the Grand Bazaar and smaller Spice Bazaar, which are still magnets for thousands of shoppers. At the Grand Bazaar, twenty entrance gates are portals I read to a maze of more than 60 paths and 4,000 shops and cafes today—the evolution of a shopping center centuries old. Were these the original mega-malls?

The Grand Bazaar invited conspicuous consumption and beautiful production centuries ago with designated sections for the making and selling of leather goods, gold, jewels and the artistry of Turkish rugs. Today, shoppers weave through the maze under tiled, vaulted ceilings. Narrow passageways of vendors may lead to a courtyard or a wider path of stores with the labrinth including a great range these days from exquisite jewelry to junky trinkets—all waiting to be bargained for.   Amidst modern cell phones, men still scurry with silver trays of tea to serve the merchants.

An entry to the Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

Near one end of the Galeta Bridge (well worth walking), the “smaller” but still a-mazing Spice Bazaar was purportedly created in the 17th century to provide revenue for the “New Mosque” (now in its 4th century, which is still relatively new in a city with the Hagia Sophia). Spices, herbs, honeycombs, and all kinds of delectables seduce the senses and invite quick deal-making for some delicious presents.

Cruise Time

By the time we boarded our Holland America Cruise ship, the Noordam, we had tended to body, soul, and mind and had gifts for our husbands and friends in packages to carry to our Verandah suite on the Promenade Deck.

When we opened the door to our suite, more treats awaited — a bottle of champagne on ice and a dozen cut fruits waited on one plate, several kinds of finger sandwiches rested on another, and white and dark chocolates of sea horses and towers greeted us inside our well-designed cabin. Outside on our verandah, the azure of the Bosphorus, the coastlines of Asia and Europe, and a skyline of spires and skyscrapers and domes – past and present – wrapped around us.

With nearby menus for room service, onboard spa treatments and shore excursions, we were leaving port to head through the Dardanelles toward Greece as part of the Ancient Mysteries cruise, happily warmed up by Istanbul’s enduring luxuries of food, baths, and shops.

Photos and articles by  © Lisa TE Sonne

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