Friday, November 26, 2010

The Fabulous Salon de Ning

It's 230 am and I've just returned from hours and hours of dancing at the informal preview party for the Salon de Ning of the Peninsula Manila, which is set to open formally next weekend in time for the holiday season. What a beautifully decorated and well-conceptualized venue for drinking, dancing and enjoying music!

The private party hosted by the Peninsula for a couple of dozen people, to "test-drive" Salon de Ning, began at 730 pm. But we first attended the black-tie gala dinner for the opening of Resortsworld (which featured an entire evening's entertainment by Lea Salonga, followed by a performance by members of Earth, Wind & Fire at the hotel's private club -- more on that in our next entry) before going, so we arrived at SDN at about 11 pm.

Bea Tantoco on-stage at Salon de Ning

By then the party was in full swing, with Bea Tantoco and her band singing, and lots of people on the dance floor. It was just hopping, but what first caught my attention was the interesting and lovely decor, which made the salon opulent, intimate and intriguing all at once. Having just arrived from Istanbul two nights ago, however, I was reminded of various places I had seen on my trip. At first glance, SDN looked to me like a cross between a souk, a palace boudoir, a villa and an elegant salon in Istanbul. This could have been a series of rooms at the harem of the Topkapi Palace or the suite of a lady with very good taste at the newly-renovated historical Pera Palas Hotel.

A Turkish feel -- at least to me

"This reminds me of Turkey," I said to GM Jonathan Crook, the moment I saw him. Even the complicated colors and intricate designs made me think of stuff to be found in the Grand Bazaar. Later on I got the full tour of the place, and I so admired the clever way the designers -- with lots of input from the hotel staff -- put everything together, and using many things from the Philippines as well. The use of local materials is not immediately apparent except when you eventually inspect everything close-hand. Every nook and cranny told an interesting story of a life well-lived and a lady much-admired, with a fabulous collection of things. I could have spent hours exploring SDN's interiors if I had not been so busy on the dance floor.

Black stockings on chandeliers

One room, which was actually a set of two rooms, had dozens of shoes and vintage bags all over the place in a sort of messy but intended chaos. The chandelier in one room was made out of glass shoes, while the lamp in the other was so ingenuously fashioned out of black patterned stockings. Yes, black patterned stockings dangling from the ceiling!

These rooms too had extremely comfortable chairs, and one room in particular -- my favorite, actually -- had what I think is the best seat in the house. It's an elevated enclosed space with a sofa for two (although tonight, I sat there with two guys, so it's quite roomy) that is directed straight at the stage, giving one enough privacy but also the best views in the house.

Meanwhile, in the main area in front of the band, I marveled at the lovely lamps made out of all kinds of colorful glass and other materials, and the columns covered with patterned capiz. All very exotic but with a really great effect of taking you away from the everyday grind -- just what you want to do on a Friday night, for instance.

Madame Ning in a collage

Even the lovely portrait of Madame Ning, a fictitious glamorous lady whose imaginary life SDN here and in other Peninsula hotels is based on, right at the entrance, is so cleverly put together. It's a collage of photos of all the artworks hanging in the rooms of the Peninsula Manila! Also, upon entering, to the left, is another intriguing rooms with the theme of the 1930s and King Kong actually peering through the windows and his left paw clawing across one of the walls. (Here's a photo of his giant paw on the wall)

Meanwhile, the music itself was great -- a good mix of very new, contemporary and some oldies from the 1980s and 1990s. Bea Tantoco and her group were very good and their choice of music made many people want to dance. There were old favorites like Rock With You and newer hits like the theme song of the latest Sex and The City movie. When Bea and her group finally finished performing past midnight, a Filipino DJ who apparently used to be very big in the club scene in China came on, and gave a very refreshing take on new and old as well. I think I spent hours on the dance floor!

Unique drinks and bar chow

I had a quick peek at the drinks and bar chow menu as well, and it truly is different from almost anywhere else. There were all kinds of really interesting drinks like a Salon de Ning special with a name that temporarily escapes me and even a drink called Halo-Halo which (if I remember right) mixed lambanog with actual ingredients for halo-halo. They also had all kinds of Philippine liquor.

So I began my week in one great club (the famous club Reina right by the Bosphorus in Istanbul on Monday night, together with Group 2 of the Travelife Magazine Turkey Tour) and then ended it in another halfway around the world (Salon de Ning in Manila); as you can imagine, it's been a pretty eventful week. And what a great way to end it at SDN. SDN will certainly be Manila's classiest music and dancing/ drinking venue.

Bravo to Jonathan Crook, Oliver, Garch, Stephanie Chong and the rest of the Peninsula Manila team for going for something so innovative, glamorous and comfortable -- which, as you can imagine, is also a combination that's so hard to get right. I've also seen photos of SDNs in Peninsula hotels in other cities like Hong Kong and New York and, frankly, I think the SDN at the Peninsula Manila is the prettiest yet. And, of course, there's simply no other place like it in our city, and certainly no other place so well and refreshingly designed. It opens formally next weekend -- do go and visit next month!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Back to Asia from Istanbul

Good evening from the Turkish Airlines lounge at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, on my way home to Asia together with some of Travelife Magazine's readers and friends who accepted our invitation to embark on an adventure together and who have journeyed to Turkey for a week of unforgettable adventures. We're all waiting for our midnight flight back to Hong Kong, and most have engrossed themselves in last-minute shopping for Turkish delights, raki, apple tea and other treats only available in this part of the world.

Finally, time for breakfast!

The day began with a lesiurely breakfast at our hotel in Istanbul (which was flying the Philippine flag outside, in honor of the 70 Filipinos staying at their hotel these past two weeks -- we'll bet good money that not too many Turkey hotels have flown the Philippine flag in front of their hotel before!), where I finally found the time to actually sit at the breakfast table and enjoy a plate of crunchy churros with chocolate, and alongside it a plate of feta cheese, honey and croissants. It's a strange combination, I know. But the churros are done very well at our hotel, which is a Spanish chain with a Spanish operations manager; and the second plate is a typical Turkish breakfast which I also just have to have when I am in Turkey.

This entire week in Istanbul, I'd been so busy catching up on emails each morning that I never had time for breakfast. I usually slipped into my front-row seat on the bus a few seconds after 9 am with a chocolate croissant wrapped in a paper napkin in my pocket and a plastic cup of ice in lieu of the buffet breakfast that everyone else was having. But today, we were checking out just before noon so there was lots of time to eat and pack.

Lunch at Cicek Pasaji and dessert at Saray

At noon I took the second Travelife group to Istanbul's Taksim Square area for lunch and a bit of shopping. For both groups who traveled with us to Turkey, I recommended that we chuck out the tour lunch on the last day and head over to the Cicek Pasaji, a beautiful covered street lined with lovely restaurants and cafes that looks very 1920s. It's one of my favorite places in Istanbul, and I just had to take everyone there this time. Fortunately, everyone enjoyed the Cicek Pasaji and the adjoining Istiklal Kaddesi, which is Istanbul's longest and most famous pedestrian avenue. It's really a commercial street now, but in the past it was the most fashionable area of the city, where fashionably-dressed ladies met to shop and have tea and lunc -- just like how Escolta was in its heyday. Many of them ended up following my recommendations, to have lunch at Cicek Pasaji and then to head over to Saray Muhallebisci for those luscious Turkish sweet treats, baklava and kunefe. Most people have an idea what baklava is, but kunefe is a largely unknown quantity (at least until a few weeks ago -- now, about 70 people have tasted kunefe and thet're spreading the word around Manila on just how good it is). It's basically a baked pastry with a bird's nest-type texture laced with honey and gooey cheese inside; and it's best eaten with some cream.

Iskandar donner for a last lunch in Turkey

Today, however, after depositing everyone at Cicek Pasaji, I decided to have a quick lunch by myself at Saray -- I simply cannot leave Istanbul without a last dessert or merienda of kunefe, and this has now become a little ritual -- in order to get a bit of shopping done, as I too was leaving Turkey with the second group. Everything smelled good when I walked into Saray, but the Iskandar donner looked really good. So I got a table for myself right by the cashier and ordered a plate of Iskandar donner (which is basically shawarma in the Iskandar-style), with rice and yoghurt on the side. For dessert, of course I had the kunefe with a dollop of cream. Extremely sinful, I know, but I wouldn't be meeting the kunefe again until next spring at the earliest, so I gave myself some leeway.

Lots of people seem to have lunch alone in Istanbul as the ground floor of Saray was practically filled with solo diners. And when my lunch arrived, I tucked into it with gusto and was very happy I had gone with my instincts to order the Iskandar donner which was spicier than a regular donner. It went extremely well with the pot of yoghurt and the very delicious Turkey rice (pilaf), which everyone on the trip loved until they were told that the rice was whipped in clarified butter, raising fears about cholesterol levels. But no wonder it's so good.

The magical Spice Bazaar

After lunch, I bought a couple of CDs of Turkish music and then we did a bit of sightseeing as it was a gorgeous day again here, before ending our trip at the Spice Bazaar in the old part of town. I'd really marked this time for my purchases of Turkish delight and other edible goodies, as the Spice Bazaar is a great place for this kind of shopping. Interestingly, tourists and locals alike frequent the place, so you're likely to see as many housewives from the Asian side of the city, for instance, as you are to see camera-toting tourists (and today, there were certainly a lot of Filipino tourists at the Spice Bazaar, courtesy of Travelife).

At the Spice Bazaar, I headed immediately for one of my favorite stalls that sold Turkish delight on the pricey side, but everything was really good. As usual, the old men at the stall made me try all kinds of Turkish delight flavors and I ended up buying about two kilos of a special Turkish delight flavored with pomegranate and pistachio to take home. I also picked up a whole lot of herbal teas from them, and again this was completely unplanned. But the smells of the teas were so unsual and so intoxicating that I simply had to buy a bit of everything. Of course it helped that the guy who sold me the tea -- who said he had previously been a journalist and was now studying medicine -- promised me all sorts of things with these marvelous teas: from weight loss and better sleep to a cure for cancer. But when you're sitting right there in the centuries-old Spice Bazaar, you tend to be a little more relaxed about the accuracy of things as it's just so much fun to poke through all the wares and buy all sorts of delightful goodies.

See you all next year!

And now we're headed back to our part of the world and back to reality after a marvelous -- simply marvelous -- two weeks in Turkey meeting 70 of our readers and friends and enjoying the opportunity to show them a city and a country we're crazy about. It's been such fun meeting everyone, and a great joy in particular to meet faithful readers who read every word of our magazine and love it.

And a phrase we heard over and over again was simply music to our ears: "Count us in for the next Travelife tour."

Next year, Travelife Magazine plans to formally offer incredible experiences in Morocco, Turkey (Istanbul + Capadoccia), South India and off-the-beaten track Japan, among others. We hope you'll consider joining us on a trip -- or many trips -- of a lifetime.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Travelife Magazine Brings You the World

Hello from Istanbul, one of the most fascinating cities in the world. We've not been updating this Travelife blog as often as we would have liked because we've been very busy showing the first batch of 70 Travelife Magazine readers and friends around this city we love. It's been truly heartwarming to see and be told by our valued readers and friends who have joined us on this trip that they have had a marvelous time and have come to enjoy and appreciate Turkey as seen through the eyes of Travelife Magazine. In fact, many of them are already signing up for our other tours next year!

One minute of inspiration becomes a reality

This trip of a lifetime to Turkey began with a simple one minute of inspiration and I still -- and perhaps always will -- remember exactly when it occurred. It was during a trip to Turkey last June when the Travelife team shot a cover for the magazine -- our current October-November issue. We traveled to Istanbul, Capadoccia and Konya. After about two very wonderful weeks or so of amazing adventures in both Istanbul and Capadoccia, we were driving back from the city's Taksim area to Istanbul's airport to take the flight back to Hong Kong. Looking out at the Marmara sea and the beautiful coastline that rings the city and straining for a last glimpse of the Old City skyline with the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia, I suddenly said to my managing editor, who was seated next to me: "Wouldn't it be great if we could actually bring people here, to this wonderful city?"

Amazing experiences with Travelife

And that's how this series of Travelife Magazine trips to Turkey began. With the help of award-winning Turkish Airlines, with its dyamic teams in Hong Kong and Manila, we created a tour with everything the finicky traveler could wish for: we covered all the major sights, but we also provided lots of finesse and personalized touches, enough comfort and excellent value. There were also world-class upgraded dining experiences for the gourmets in the group who wanted more than a regular delicious dinner: Travelife took them to Kosebasi, the best kebab restaurant in Turkey, and to Asitane, one of the most historically interesting restaurants in the world.

There was also an opportunity to drink and dance at Reina, one of the world's most glamorous bars, located right along the Bosphorus -- and some people in the group did drink and dance until 2 AM! To top off a truly exhilarating week, we arranged a private dinner cruise for our groups along the Bosphorus, sailing off just before sunset and then enjoying dinner with the twinkling lights of the city all around. This was one of the most memorable experiences for many of our readers and friends.

A perfectly-balanced tour

Lots of people in our groups told me that they usually never took tours, but they were very happy with the Travelife trip because it provided just the right balance between guided activities (which are very convenient, especially in places with language and cultural barriers) and free time to do what they wished. We tried hard not to jampack the schedule, but we also tried to ensure that we saw everything important in Istanbul and Izmir.

Of course, it's still a tour so the schedule was probably tougher than most people would have wished. But we were assuming that most people coming to Turkey for one week would like to see more sights rather than less, so we tried to at least include the major sights along with a lot of local stops off the tourist track. And in the tour scheme of things, this one was certainly much more relaxed than most tours on the market. We had civilized (and very delicious) breakfasts and we began most days at 9 am, and the pace throughout the day was relatively slow vis-a-vis the usual tours.

It would also have been nice to have a longer tour, but I was really insistent on a one-week trip to enable more people to go. Lots of people can take a week off from work or family, but longer than becomes difficult. Besides, those who can extend can just do so on their own and spend their extra days relaxing or revisiting the sights they fell in love with. These were the rationales behind our planning.

What makes us different

Furthermore, I'm sure every reader and friend who has joined us on this trip will agree that they received the kind of value and experience that cannot and will not be equalled anywhere. Frankly, the secret ingredients of a trip that Travelife plans are a passion for travel and a genuine desire to bring people with a sense of adventure to truly wondrous places. This Travelife trip and future trips will never be equaled because they are true labors of love. In other words, we created the kind of tour we ourselves would like to join, and we planned the kind of itinerary we would make for our own family or best friend.

Last week, the first batch arrived in Istanbul to begin a trip to Izmir and Istanbul; and as I type this out, there are now 70 Travelife readers and friends in Turkey -- which to me, personally, is quite amazing considering this started out as a simple inspired moment last June.

It has helped that we had a great guide and that the weather has been absolutely perfect -- so unreal, in fact, for Turkey at this time of the year. So far, I think we had one evening of rain overnight and then about a 15 minute shower one afternoon. And temperature-wise, it's cool but not cold. It's the perfect weather for walking through Izmir and Istanbul.

Bringing the world to you via our magazine,
bringing you to the world with our tours

What's on the cards for next year and the year after that? We were constantly asked this question on the trip. Well, with the great success of this non-profit promotional trip to Turkey organized by Travelife Magazine and Turkish Airlines, we're looking at formally offering more trips with Travelife next year. Morocco, South Africa, Southern India, and off-the-beaten track Japan are just some of the destinations we're looking at.

Don't leave home without Travelife

So make sure you don't leave home without Travelife -- whether it's our magazine, filled with great stories and valuable information on your destination; or by joining one of our incredible travel experiences, that are wonderfully planned down to the last detail. And just ask any of our 70 readers and friends who were adventurous enough to join us on these two trips to Turkey -- once you've traveled with Travelife Magazine, you won't want to go anywhere with anyone else.

Happiness is bringing our readers to wondrous places.
Not just writing about them.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Secrets of the Grand Bazaar

Good morning from Istanbul, one of our favorite cities in the world. It's autumn here but yesterday we were blessed with incredibly good weather, which I hope will last for the next two weeks. Over 70 readers and friends of Travelife Magazine are journeying to Turkey from today to join us in a trip-of-a-lifetime to Istanbul, as well as to the historical sights around Izmir. Yes, it was so warm for this time of the year, in fact, that yesterday people were eating in outdoor cafes in their t-shirts.

I flew ahead to Istanbul to ensure that everything is going smoothly. Yesterday, after fixing the restaurant menus for the trip, I still had a couple of hours left before meeting some good friends, an expatriate couple I'd known from Tokyo who had very kindly invited to dinner at their posh flat in Istanbul's Sisli district, with an amazing view of the city and the Bosphorus; so I thought about all the things I wanted to do in Istanbul apart from sightseeing. But more on that later.

Living like a local in Istanbul

I usually like staying in a historical hotel or a designer hotel in Istanbul, just because it makes the visit to this ancient city much more more interesting. This time, however, for my two nights before everyone arrives, I chose a boutique hotel that had been fixed up by a famous local interior designer, and that was run more like a serviced apartment. My 50-square meter room has a proper kitchen and dining room, so it's more like a single person's Tokyo apartment. Very nicely done, nothing over-the-top, a bit of quirkiness with the art on the walls, and truly wonderful service.

But the main reason I chose this hotel is because it's in the district of Nisantasi, which is just about Istanbul's toniest retail district: it's like LA's Rodeo Drive, London's Bond Street, or Rome's Via Condotti. Not that I'm planning on shopping for world-class brand names I can buy anywhere else in the world, in my first two days in Istanbul, mind you. It's just that this is one of the few areas of Istanbul that I have not yet explored in full, and it's a great favorite for locals who love the good life here. So I thought it'd be interesting to spend a weekend hanging around like a local, instead of going from one attraction to another in an effort to see every tourist sight in Istanbul. Besides, I've seen most of them -- but of course there are still a few things left. Maybe for next time.

So that's what I'm doing today. Hanging around Nisantasi to see what all the (local) fuss is about and then meeting up with some friends for dinner in the area.

The amazing Grand Bazaar

Yesterday, though, I ended up nevertheless contradicting my intentions of experiencing Istanbul like a local, and going to the most touristy place in Istanbul, which was also way across town: the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is really full of shops catering to tourists and, apart from a few beautiful accessories and a couple of re-worked carpets (modern carpets made from pieces of old ones), I'd never really bought anything here that didn't scream "tourist." But a few weeks ago, while I was in Tokyo, I'd chanced on a cable tv program about some girl who'd explored Istanbul and seen the Grand Bazaar areas that the locals or the tourists-in-the-know go to. Famous fashion designers from around the world, for example, apparently have their ultra-secret sources of fabulous vintage fabrics here -- and they buy hordes of these for inspirations for their own designs. So I thought I'd try to see this aspect of the Grand Bazaar, if I could find it beyond the thousands of tourist kitsch shops.

Getting to the Grand Bazaar like a local

The first task, for me, was to get to the Grand Bazaar like a local. Of course I could've hopped into a cab and gone over the Galata Bridge, but for me that would have defeated the purpose. So from my hotel, I took the metro to Taksim Square, walked down Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul's most famous pedestrian avenue, and then took a maze of winding side streets with centuries-old shops down to the Bosphorus. From just where the bridge to the Old Town starts, I took a tram to the neighborhood of the Grand Bazaar. It was certainly the very long route to the bazaar, but it made me feel less touristy.

Seeking help from the locals

I entered through Gate 5, which I'd never been through before. Those who know the Grand Bazaar will agree that it's a labrynth of shops and it's almost not impossible to get lost once you've wandered deep enough inside. I wanted to get in touch with some people from a family of artisans, who had had a shop in the bazaar for generations, and who I'd met on my last trip over. It would not do to try and look for these secret shops on my own as I'd just get pointed to the usual tourist shops; the best would be to ask locals I could trust.

I just had a general idea how to get to their shop inside the bazaar and I'd stupidly forgotten their phone numbers and address. And unfortunately, after a while, most shops look exactly like each other. Luckily, however, I eventually found my shop and the two brothers who ran it together were sitting inside having Turkish coffee. They greeted me like a long-lost friend and offered me the de rigeur apple tea and Turkish coffee. But they had so many newly-crafted necklaces and bracelets since my last visit that I ended up buying about half a dozen accessories before I actually asked them about those secret shops.

The older brother knew exactly what I was talking about.

"I work with a lot of international designers, you know," he told me, with a mixture of secrecy and just a wee bit of self-importance. "Everyone comes to Istanbul for inspiration. I don't know if this is what you had in mind, but all my designer friends love his shop. Let me take you to him."

A treasure trove of textiles

So off we went down another amazing set of avenues filled with men hawking their lamps and carpets, and storekeepers wanting to be my best friend. We entered a shop that sold towels and soaps at the forefront, and when I saw the soaps, I thought to myself, "Oh no. He didn't understand what I meant!" It turned out I had too little faith in my Istanbul friend. At the very back of the shop -- don't ask me why the shopowner kept such treasures at the back and sold soap and towels at the front -- were simply beautiful textiles and traditional clothes piled up until the ceiling, in all sorts of colors and styles.

Heirloom pieces that were over 80 years old

I was then introduced to the shop owner, who told me: "These are heirloom pieces that the women bring as part of their dowry when they marry. Most of these sat in family chests for 80 or 90 years untouched since the wedding day."

"How do you get stuff like these?" I asked him.

He shrugged. "I travel all over Turkey, to the small villages. I make friends with the local families and they open up their dowry chests for me and show me these things. Of course by now they prefer to get some money for these fabrics, as they've never used them."

I stayed for the rest of the afternoon, pouring over each and every material. Lots of it were of course the usual heavy and traditional Turkish designs that have now become designs for popular tourist souvenirs and Turkish costumes. But there were more than several handfuls of truly beautiful material that would have looked just as appropriate on a fashionable street in Paris or Tokyo. I could easily see how decades-old stuff like these made fashion designers teary-eyed and became the source for their contemporary collections.

Two robes, one from the Antalya region of Turkey and another from an area near the Black Sea, stood out for me; and I was so tempted to take my wallet out again and buy them. One was a very colorful green and white robe with modern-type prints that could easily be mistaken for Christian Lacroix; and another was a denim-colored robe with small red stitching that I could've sworn I'd seen in the Paris shop of Girbaud once. And yet here they were, at least 80 years old, in the 13th century Grand Bazaar!

More updates on the Travelife trip around Turkey over the next few days.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Travel Writing Workshop on November 20

Hello from the lounge at HK Airport of Turkish Airlines. I'm on my way again to Istanbul, one of my favorite cities in the world, to personally accompany the over 70 readers and friends of Travelife Magazine who are journeying with us to this very exotic part of the world for a week of history, art, culture, fun and -- yes, shopping.

It's twenty minutes to boarding for my 12-hour flight to Istanbul and as usual, I'm a bit anxious about being cooped up in an enclosed space for such a long period of time. Anyone who has ever traveled with me knows I need lots of good movies, a bit of nice food and a very decent bed to make it across two or three continents. Thank goodness Turkish Airlines has a great lie-flat bed with thick comforters and a pretty generous private space in business class. There's never such a thing as a large space on an airplane, of course, but Turkish Airlines certainly comes pretty close to home.

The Art (and Joys) of Travel Writing
Saturday, November 12
Fully Booked, Bonifacio High Street

Special thanks to Jun Reynales

"That was a fun, fun, fun workshop.
So much insight. With (literally) icing on top.
Haha. Let's do it again!"
- posted by A.M. on Facebook

The Travelife team at the workshop registration

"Great job with the workshop!
Hope it expands and evolves into
more learning sessions with your readers."
- posted by R.V. on Facebook
Travelife Publisher Christine Cunanan &
Travelife Contributing Editor Miko Liwanag

A participant at the workshop

Gabby Malvar, Travelife Editor at Large

"I thoroughly enjoyed Saturday afternoon with you guys.
Aside from the writing workshop,
I also learned how to be a better traveler.
Great job!"
- posted by R.V. on Twitter

A participant at the workshop

Travelife Editor at Large Gabby Malvar &
Travelife Publisher Christine Cunanan

"It was a learning experience for me.
Great job and kudos to the organizers.
Hope there will be a part 2."
- posted by A.M. on Facebook

Travelife General Manager Leah Gohu
holds the certificates of completion
for The Art (and Joys) of Travel Writing

A participant at the workshop

A participant at the workshop

The Travelife team at the workshop

Gabby Malvar, Travelife Editor at Large

A participant at the workshop

Miko Liwanag, Travelife Contributing Editor

"It was very inspiring."
-posted by M.O. on Facebook

Participants at the workshop


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Solo on the Silk Road, 24 hours in a Samar Cave

We've taken a bit longer to tell you about Travelife's wonderful October-November Pre-Holiday issue because travel, the GK Hope Ball and so many other things have been taking up our time recently. But the issue was released at the start of October and it is still on the newsstands for the rest of the month, so we really hope you get a copy!

About Travelife Magazine's October-November issue

The holiday season has arrived in the Philippines, happily synonymous with cooler weather, midnight masses and holiday parties. It is said that the Philippines celebrates the longest holiday season in the world and Filipinos are incurably proud of this fact. In the first part of our October-November issue, Travelife Magazine makes note of this and recommends certain items that you may want to consider giving your significant others – or yourself. Sure, we’re starting early; but if you hang on to this issue into November and the early days of December, our picks should still be good.

On location in Istanbul and the "boyfriend smile"

This issue's cover was shot on location in Istanbul, and we had a fantastic time putting together the pictorial in the gardens of Istanbul's fabled Topkapi Palace and in front of the beautiful Blue Mosque. It was a particularly fine day and we had a lively and very pretty model named Zubeydeh. Being a model, she was used to the typical fashion pictorial of beautiful women posing in expensive clothes against a beautiful backdrop, but looking like they have a stomachache. This posed a problem for us as our covers are normally different. We like to feature models who are having a good time.

So, of course, we had to think of all sorts of ingeniuous ways to make her show her teeth. Finally we hit the right spot. She gave us a nice smile when we told her to think of her boyfriend, and then an especially wide smile when we suggested she think of her previous boyfriend. But she had the best smile when we asked her to imagine a future boyfriend. We amusedly wondered why...but of course we're not telling the current boyfriend this.

The boyfriend smile in the Topkapi Palace Gardens

The ex-boyfriend smile in the Topkapi Palace Gardens

A minute of inspiration on Turkey

It was during this trip to Turkey, in the comfort of our lie-flat beds on Turkish Airlines' 777 jet back to Hong Kong, that we hatched a plan to organize a trip to Turkey for Travelife readers and friends. We'd had such a wonderful time in Turkey that we strongly felt that more Filipinos should have the opportunity to visit. Well, that minute of inspiration is now becoming a reality. From this weekend, over 70 readers and friends of Travelife Magazine will be journeying to Istanbul for us to see for themselves the places we at Travelife have marveled about in our magazine and in this blog.

This is part of Travelife Magazine's core philosophy of not only writing about wondrous places, but also of trying to bring wondrous places to our valued readers. Watch out for more fabulous travel experiences next year. We'll be offering Turkey tours on a regular basis and adding other fabled destinations. In fact, just yesterday at lunch with a powerhouse airline lady, I was already hatching up a tour to another intriguing location for next year. But that's another story.

Travelife Magazine will be your travel partner

For now, let me tell you that I personally have put a lot of time and effort into planning this trip to Turkey, and I hope it will make all the difference between a commercial tour and a trip with Travelife -- in terms of value, arrangements and planning. After traveling with Travelife in some way -- whether it's bringing a copy of our magazine, with all our recommendations, on your trip, or actually going along with us on one of our many exciting voyages next year -- we're hoping you will not want to go anywhere without Travelife anymore. We will be your travel partners in every sense -- and no other travel publication will offer you this experience.

From dark to light in the Philippines

Back to our October-November issue. Gabby Malvar, Travelife Magazine's Editor at Large, periodically subjects himself to the unusual. He’s at it again, this time in extreme altitudes. In Samar’s caves, he goes Walking the Underworld (page 84). Deprived of sensory input in visceral darkness, he turns his mind to deep philosophical musings. And from within the bowels of the earth he goes to the extreme opposite and heads skyward aboard an Ultralight aircraft. High above the Pampanga countryside he soars in a Flight of Imagination (page 96).

Erstwhile globetrotter Caroline Eden makes her way deep into Central Asia, to Bukhara, Uzbekistan, one of the ancient cities on the Silk Road. Her account of Recapturing Bukhara (page 92) is so vivid, it makes the reader want to see it for himself. I certainly wanted to. On the other side of the world, Francesca Panti visits Berlin and experiences a darker side to the history of Germany. In Dark Pasts, Bright Futures (page 88) she shows us that there is a lesson to be learned amidst the gloomy monuments to man’s ignominy. Decades of relative peace after the Second World War and the Cold War, it seems that we’ve finally embraced that lesson. Or have we?

Planning for Turkey next year

In this issue, we also show how fabled Istanbul continues Echoing the Past in the Present (page 68). Even if you're not joining us in Istanbul this week (we hope you'll consider joining us next year!), you'll find our account quite thorough; a worthy guide for your visit.

A shortlist of holiday destinations

This is a holiday issue in many ways. All the destinations here are possible alternatives to the year-end troop to Boracay, Hong Kong, or Baguio. Of special mention is a pilgrimage tour to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela for Filipino pilgrims, offered for the first time by the Spain Tourism Board and Thai Airways. But if these are not in your stars, our roundup may just provide the alternative, outlining excellent hotel restaurants easily at par with your celebratory mood.

Hong Kong, next issue

We’ve had a busy time putting this issue together, and the outcome is something which provokes your thought, emotions, and ideas. We hope you find it useful and informative. We’ll see you next issue, our December-January issue shot in Hong Kong, a city so familiar to so many of us but one that is perpetually exciting and always changing. By then the holidays will really be upon us.