A Travel Blog from the Editors of Departures

Posts by Jessica Flint

Istanbul's New Raffles Hotel

Istanbul's New Raffles Hotel
Photo courtesy of Raffles Hotels & Resorts

On Istanbul’s European side, nestled above the Bosphorus in the year-old Zorlu Center—a sort of sophisticated bazaar 2.0 with more than 200 high-end shops, 40 restaurants, residential apartments and Turkey’s first performing arts center to host Broadway and West End shows—is a new Raffles hotel, which opens in September.

The design-centric property has 181 rooms, of which 49 are suites, outfitted with contemporary Turkish touches—think locally made glass, crystal and subtle mosaics. All have floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies with panoramic city views. Request a corner Horizon Suite, which has an extra-large terrace and wraparound vistas of the Bosphorus.

As is the case with Raffles’s Le Royal Mon­ceau in Paris, art plays a large part in creating the hotel’s vibe, with a mix of mediums—paintings, sculpture, photography, video installation—enlivening the space, including a commissioned 26-foot-high Jean-François Rauzier mural in the lobby lounge. Even the bed headboards are moody artworks ranging from calming purples to dusty blues.

Don’t miss the spa. It’s one of Istanbul’s largest and has a modern version of an old hammam; the treatment to try is the Rose, Sugar and Honey experience. The hotel also has two restaurants, two bars and two swimming pools, including an outdoor one on the roof. Rooms start at $790; Zorlu Center, Besiktas; 90-212/336-9160; raffles.com.

Easy-to-Access Urban Parks

Easy-to-Access Urban Parks NPS
Courtesy of National Park Service

The NPS has more than 100 parks and recreation areas close to major cities. Here, four to explore.


Great Falls

Nearest City: Washington, D.C., a 30-minute drive.
What It Is: In McLean, Virginia, the park overlooks the Potomac River’s, well, great falls. 703-285-2965.
What To Do: Early in the morning, hike the one-and-a-half-mile River Trail, which runs along the river’s stunning cliffs.


Santa Monica Mountains

Nearest City: Los Angeles, just outside the city.
What It Is: At 154,094 acres, the country’s largest urban national park is in L.A.’s backyard. 805-370-2300.
What To Do: Go beyond Griffith Park: Hike at Paramount Ranch, where dozens of movies and TV shows have been filmed.


Harbor Islands

Nearest City: Boston, a 20- to 40-minute ferry ride.
What It Is: A group of 34 islands and peninsulas across the harbor from Boston. 617-223-8666.
What To Do: There are tons of activities: Explore a Civil War–era fort, visit lighthouses, hike, picnic, fish and more.


Golden Gate

Nearest City: San Francisco, within city limits.
What It Is: An urban recreational area that’s home to George Lucas’s headquarters. 415-561-4700.
What To Do: Hide away at lux­ury resort Cavallo Point. Rooms, from $400; 601 Murray Cir.; 415-339-4700; cavallopoint.com.

For more on national parks, see U.S. National Parks (Without the Crowds).

Are Tattoos Art? The Andaz Hotel’s Tattoo Artist-in-Residence Weighs In

Courtesy Mister Cartoon

Is this a jump-the-shark moment? The Andaz, a luxury boutique hotel in New York, is hosting a—ready for it?—tattoo artist-in-residence. And not just any old tattoo artist. Mister Cartoon is actually a graffiti artist so renowned that an ice cream truck he airbrushed was featured in last summer’s “Art in the Streets” exhibition at MOCA, in Los Angeles. (If he’s good enough for Jeffrey Deitch…) In fact, he's so popular with the inked crowd that if you want to permanently display one of his decorative designs on your limbs, back or, er, wherever else—just like Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Eminem, Justin Timberlake and Beyonce have—you better join his two-year waiting list. Unless, of course, you book a room at the Andaz between now and December 22, in which case you can race to the head of the line.

While we were busy scratching our heads trying to figure out why a high-end hotel is offering this somewhat bizarre, yet arguably service-y service, it occurred to us that a larger cultural thing may be happening here. Just like “Art in the Streets” made a case for graffiti as art, could Mister Cartoon be pushing the boundaries of tattooer as artiste? We at Departures.com took the opportunity to ask Mister Cartoon that very same question. Herewith, the big kahuna of tatting responds in our first ever one-question Q&A.

Departures.com: Are tattoos art?

Mister Cartoon: I consider tattoos an art form, yet it did not start out that way. It used to be a trade, and its artistry was frowned upon. I got into it because I was doing graffiti and I started hanging out in tattoo shops in my early 20s. I just never left. The transition from graffiti to tattooing was a process. Learning the art of tattooing is not easy, but it’s worth the hard work. Some people come with designs and ideas; others let me do my thing—it depends on the client. The most memorable tattoo I’ve designed was my wife’s backpiece, along with Eminem’s daughter’s portrait and 50 Cent’s back. But I like it when it’s artist’s choice day. Prices start at $1,000; andaz.com.

For Sale: Orvis’s Vintage 1954 Airstream

Courtesy Timeless Travel Trailers.

Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like a one-of-a-kind custom Airstream from Orvis. This season, Denver-based Timeless Travel Trailers restored a vintage 1954 trailer, complete with oak floors, hickory handmade cabinets and leather wall coverings and couch. It’s being auctioned off until December 11. Consider it your hunting house and fishing shack on wheels: You can go pheasant hunting in South Dakota in the winter and fly-fishing in Montana during the summer—without ever leaving home sweet home. The perfect stocking stuffer to go along with the keys to the ignition? A DVD of The Great Outdoors—yep, the trailer is classed-up with a high-def TV! Current bid, $86,000; orvistimelessairstream.com.

Plus! Did you know there are only 105,000 Airstreams in the world?

Charles James Gowns at the Chicago History Museum

Courtesy Chicago History Museum

Sandwiched between the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s blockbuster “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” exhibition last summer and the Denver Art Museum’s forthcoming Yves Saint Laurent retrospective, which opens in March, is the Chicago History Museum’s ode to the iconic yet somewhat little-known fashion designer Charles James. It’s a gem of an exhibition not to be missed. Considered the first American couturier—and one of the only to have worked in the pure tradition of haute couture—James’s creations from 1928 to 1958 proved that the French weren’t the only craftsmen who could design lavish sculptural eveningwear. More than a dozen of James’s masterpieces are on display as part of “Charles James: Genius Deconstructed,” as are reproductions of his famous Tree, Clover and Butterfly dresses, with cutting and stitching so precise that the construction is almost scientific. The exhibition opening kicks off with a costume ball tomorrow night, where the dresses are expected to be as fabulous as the ones James created to outfit such enduring style icons as Babe Paley, Millicent Rogers and Gypsy Rose Lee. October 22, 2011–April 16, 2012; $14; 1601 N. Clark St.; 312-642-4600; chicagohs.org.

Inside New York’s The Double Seven

Courtesy of The Double Seven

It is a familiar New York story: Hotspot closes for a vague reason (“overcrowding;” “unpaid fines;” “licensing violations”). L.B.D-wearing patrons are displaced and migrate elsewhere. Bar owners band together in solidarity to open a new incarnation of the old watering hole. Cocktail king Sasha Petraske is involved somehow, whether in person or in spirit. Interior designer is instructed to bring in some high-low element. New establishment makes a splashy debut with a Cinema Society screening after-party. Boldfacers show up. Media blitz follows. Flock of L.B.D.s returns—and so does the sizzle.

The latest version of this tale as old as time involves The Double Seven, the buzzy bar whose 14th Street location died a grave death in January 2007 (“landlord fight”). Recently, the new location opened on Gansevoort Street with a Cinema Society after-party for the screening of director Pedro Almodovar’s film The Skin I Live In. So far Mick Jagger’s been to the lounge. So has Madonna, Steve Martin, Antonio Banderas and Daphne Guinness. And so have we.

Once you enter past the large brass door next to the graffiti painting of Bob Dylan, the ambiance is luxe to the max. The bar top is made of crocodile embossed leather. The base of the bar is made of laser cut steel. The low cocktail tables are Balinese teak. For a nostalgic tug at the hemline, the front seating area is adorned with hand blown glass from the original venue. The bar staff has been trained in none other than Sasha Petraske’s cocktail method. There’s even a dedicated staff member whose job it is to makes the specialty ice (large balls, perfect cubes and crushed).

Go for the cocktails. The Eastside Cocktail, which can be made with gin or vodka, is a favorite; it's a little tart but refreshing due to the cucumber. And go for the volume level. The bar is geared towards conversation, so the music plays only to add to the ambiance, not to make it hard to hear or enable dancing on the banquettes. The door is discretionary based on space (capacity is 160). We recommend dressing like you mean it—and, of course, being respectful to the door persons, Mina and Armando. 63 Gansevoort St.

Delta Brings Foodies on Board

Michelle Bernstein in one of the more than 70 Delta kitchens worldwide. Photo courtesy of Delta.

Plane passengers actually lose 30 percent of their palate at 30,000 feet, so it's no wonder airline food has always gotten a bad rap for being bland. This culinary stigma is changing though thanks to Delta Air Lines, which has brought together James Beard award-winning foodies to serve bold flavors on its BusinessElite flights. Napa-based Food Network star Michael Chiarello just signed on to prepare quarterly seasonal menus for the JFK to LAX and SFO routes; Miami-based chef Michelle Bernstein handles the international BusinessElite flights (such as New York to London or Rome); and master sommelier Andrea Robinson, one of 17 female master sommeliers in the United States, tastes 900 wines on the ground annually and brings her top contenders into the air to make sure the vino taste as good at altitude as it does on the ground. (The sommelier's job is not to be undervalued: Delta serves a staggering 1.5 million bottles of wine in-flight per year. That's in comparison to the 120 million peanuts, 60 million pretzels and 3 million BusinessElite meals served annually.) To top it off, Delta just debuted a modern set of plates, linens and glassware. The effect? An airline meal worth writing home about.

Don't miss: Departures' Ultimate First Class Guide

Taking a Shot at the US Open

You've been served. Photo courtesy of iStock.

Oh, hello. We know you. You're that country club tennis player who gloats that you could return Andy Roddick's 155-mph serve. Well, start beefing up your return game: The United States Tennis Association is giving you a chance to play the pros. Now in its second year, the USTA's men's and women's US Open National Playoffs tournament grants the tournament winner a wild card into the US Open qualifying round, which started August 23. Winning qualifiers end up in the main draw, which starts August 29. "I'm just really glad they have this, because it's gotten me into the US Open twice now," says Blake Strode, who has won the men's playoffs the last two years. If you're too afraid to walk the walk (and having hit with Andy Murray, this author advises not attempting to return a pro's serve), purchase a US Open Supreme Package, which offers Arthur Ashe loge-level seating. While the package doesn't include seats in Section 54, which is closest to the USTA President's box for good people watching, it does come with breakfast in the player's dining room. Then you can brag to your country club companions that you at least talked to Roddick about his kicker. US Open, August 29-September 11; Supreme Ticket Package, $700-$1,600; Flushing, New York; 718/760-6363; usopen.org.

Did you know: New York City cult hairstylist Julien Farel has a VIP salon at the US Open

Online: The Beauty Network

Serious about skincare. Courtesy of Bloom.com

Is it possible for a website to recommend exactly which beauty products will work best for you? New social beauty store Bloom.com thinks so. The site asks users to fill out a brief beauty questionnaire, and then, based on product feedback submitted by other users with profiles similar to yours, Bloom.com delivers personalized suggestions. "The more recommendations, the smarter the algorithm becomes," says Bloom.com founder Julie Mahloch. It's a fun way to discover new brands, and there's a bonus: Every Bloom.com purchase comes with rather large random samples tailored to you. (This writer was pleasantly surprised when her sample box included three of her favorite brands: Ole Henriksen, Pangea Organics and REN.) The site excels in skin and hair care, offering such high-end lines as Clarisonic, John Masters Organics, Dr. Brandt and Alchimie Forever. If you're looking for makeup brands beyond what's available in the drugstore, though, visit one of these sites. bloom.com.

Plus! Loctions, Potions and Serums

New York: Helping Masters of the Universe Multitask

Get barbered, buffed, and bespoked. Photo courtesy of Alexander West

John Allan's has long been Wall Street's one-stop shop for a shave, a shoeshine and a stiff drink. Starting August 15, the clubby barbershop's Midtown LOCATION will be providing its elite clientele with another service: Alexander West bespoke shirt fittings. "Every shirt is made from scratch and customized for the individual," says Alexander West designer Alexander Yoo. The fittings take 15 to 45 minutes for first-time customers. Measurements take about 10 minutes, but fabric browsing and style choices can take longer. "If the client doesn't know what fits best, we can always guide them in the right direction," Yoo says. Estimated shirt delivery time is between three and five weeks. Appointments are suggested but not required. Shirts from $125. 46 E. 46th St.; 212-922-0361; johnallans.com.

Plus! Inside John Allan's

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