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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

IRRESISTABLE ISTANBUL

Wednesday, July 09, 2014 Jan Sevilla





Photo: projects.aegee.org
Half an hour past midnight, my travel partner is still on the other end of the line – talking fast and laying out the plan. 

Quite frankly, it’s a series of plans. Or, more precisely: a mezze expressed in descriptive narratives peppered with carefully calculated figures, jumbled words of encapsulated wisdom and gallivanting enthusiasms, that, when grouped and arranged together, will form a perfect collage of everything I need to know about traveling to Istanbul.

After all, he is the kind of person that could intricately weave his series of experiences into anecdotal piece creating colorful tales of adventure. So here I am with eyes wide open and listening in, despite our five hour time difference, as he collectively recounts his quick take on a whirlwind tour to the old Byzantium or Constantinople Empire. 

The question arises, “why Istanbul?”

The word itself paints an enigmatic skyline in my imagination where glittering palaces, mosques and minarets proudly stand side by side – aged and glorious, yet never losing their grandeur even though a sense of decrepitude has fallen like a mantle over the once-all-mighty kingdom of the Bosporus. 

Slowly it started to sink in. Bit by bit, each detail fell into perfect place. In my very own version, please allow me to piece the fragments of our conversation in a gist.

It simply started after my travel partner signed up for tourIstanbul, a free tour service offered by Turkish Airlines to its passengers transiting at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport from international flights with a minimum of a six hour layover. After checking their website, what happened next was a series of fortunate events. He found himself sitting with other nationalities on a bus heading to one of the world’s earliest civilizations. 

The site allows transiting Turkish Airlines passengers to choose their own tour, allowing flexibility and at the same time pampered with Turkish hospitality.
Interestingly enough is how a spur of the moment decision can actually lead to something unimaginable, a delightful happenstance. How a mere six hour layover could turn into a journey that even first impressions are enough to get one smitten by Istanbul’s enigmatic charm. Perhaps unmistakably even take you to a better vantage point and get a closer look at Turkish hospitality.

But my plan was to fly first from Kuala Lumpur (where I lived) to France and then Istanbul.

Looking at all flight options, my conniving curiosity has a great way of convincing me that taking Turkish Airlines will give me that striking first impression of what awaits in the “City of the World’s Desire” as described by Philip Mansel in his book, Constantinople. A modus operandi which my travel partner approved as he added on a few extra notes. That, at 36,000 thousand feet, even before I would arrive in Istanbul, my meal will be exquisitely prepared by the chef on board! Yes, a real chef that also hands out to passengers, the infamous Turkish delights – which is believed to have brought peace to a sultan’s quarreling harem.

As Turkish Airlines fly to seven destinations in France alone, I couldn’t quite figure out which city would work out to satisfy my coveted French romance. 

Of course, there is the charm of Paris, the vibrant vieux port and the bouillabaisse of Marseille, the wine region of Bordeaux and the gastronomy haven of Lyon. Adding to the list is the cassoulet of Toulouse, the choucroute of Strasbourg, but in the end it was to catch a week of summer fun on the Riviera in Nice making it to the top of my list. Much to my surprise, as luck would have it, Turkish Airlines flies twice daily to Cote d’Azur.

This will be my flight plan. A straight line from Asia to Europe and back. 

The second part of the plan proved to be easy as it will only be a short hop from Nice to Istanbul. Explore the city and board the latest flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

As originally planned, instead of having a six hour layover, I will be staying in Istanbul for two wonderful days of cultural odyssey.

To fast forward the events, I am going to cross the iron-laced Galata Bridge that connects the old historic part and the modern Europeanized Beyoğlu quarter. Meet the ghosts of marauding crusaders as well as the patrolling janissaries that haunt the city’s ancient alleyways and at the same time listen to the voices of the past resound on the faded frescoes.  Once in a while I’ll take a pause to contemplate when I hear the call of the muezzin.



I will take and sip my Turkish tea too – slowly as most Istanbulites do while it is being poured into a tulip-shaped glass. Its commanding taste is a constant battle of bitter and sweet but in a place like Istanbul, where grit and gloss, secularism and religion, East and West all collide with a jolt yet all coexists harmoniously. Whether sitting on the rooftop smelling the smoky kebabs or hop on a ferry that links both Asia and Europe in a bat of eyelash, I just can’t hardly wait to get there.

To me, this sounds like more than just a plan!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

WHEN IN CEBU

Thursday, June 19, 2014 Jan Sevilla






There was nothing but the gentle lapping, splashing and sedating sound of the waves, and the occasional cry of a passing gaff-rigged motorboat or the crisp April zephyr blowing from the shore of Punta Engaño on the Island of Mactan, Cebu.


It’s ten o’clock in the morning at the Abacà Resort and from the terrace of the ocean-view suite where I was standing, it’s no secret that come summer, this beguiling Visayan coastline swells with boatloads of sun worshippers, all seeking their own perfect summer adventure. 

While many young tourists in various stages of an undercoated tan flock to several nearby islets blissfully crisscrossing the languid waters under the midday sun; others, the so called utopian leisure visionaries, find their simplicity in soaking up the experience of luxe shoreline lifestyle and exclusivity.

Amid the sunscreen-smeared hullabaloo, one is torn to finding either a hip, fun under-the-sun location or an intimate place of low key glamour and fantastical - free thinking retreat. We (joined by my travel partner) didn’t hesitate to choose the latter.


Earlier that day, upon arriving at Cebu’s international airport, we quickly headed to the east coast driving along Punta Engaño’s road. Life in this suburban neighborhood was eminent and vibrant. Although set in the Visayan soil, there was almost a complete certainty that a piece of Spain still thrives here, even after long generations have passed on, ever so from the island’s discovery in 1521. At a glance, its influence takes true form in the long procession on the street down to every church we came across, all filled with devotees and divine believers. 

As Cebu’s physical looks not only shows in its rich Spanish heritage mixed with the warm Visayan vibes, its unique topography also gives way to many eclectic beach destinations. Cebu, being an island itself, is made up of two islands separated by the Mactan Channel and interconnected by two bridges, resembling closely to shoe laces pulling the city’s two halves together – the mainland of Cebu City and Lapu-Lapu City on Mactan Island - where all the tourists arrive.


Like all holiday makers that are sometimes caught up with a busy travel schedule, we faced the dilemma of finding a quick getaway that would be close to the airport and not too far from the city. Our quest brought us to an eight year-old boutique hotel on the narrow stretch of Punta Engaño - The Abacà. 

It wasn’t long after stepping out on the terrace that morning, I made a beeline to the awaiting cabanas. Intimacy is decadence within the six deluxe suites and three expansive villas overlooking the sea. The lush gardens, the dark wood almost melting with the slate stones accented with metals, created an intimate sophisticated touch of tropical paradise. 


But style doesn’t trump substance. Started as a restaurant, the Abacà offers a pleasant surprise that delights one’s fastidious palate. A five-star full service California-Mediterranean inspired cuisine, boasts dishes that include grilled and roasts coming  close to home cooked meals served fresh from the wood burning oven, punctuated by selections of fine wine with its very own bar. 

Yet while in Mactan, the summer doesn’t end there. A quick boat ride to the surrounding waters promise copious exciting dive exploits such as Kontiki, Tambuli Reef and Hilutungan Island Marine Sanctuary. Olango, being the most popular, offers a great underwater experience coupled with excellent snorkeling spots. One could either have a close encounter at the shark-infested Mabini Point or simply marvel at the soft coral haven at Santa Rosa. If that is not enough, go pro to the deep wall dive of Baring.


If the pursuit of that perfect tan is what you’re after, Nalusuan and Sulpa Islands will be your lifeline. Here is where beach bums hop from island to island, leaving tales of gossip and friendship along the powdery sands. The final stop on the way home should be made at a local seafood restaurant and feast on sutukil (locally translated as sugba-grilled, tuwa-stewed, kilaw-raw) meals before catching that last jeepney.

Whether it’s the sunset, the charming islands, the thousand migratory birds in Olango, the alluring seascapes or the coral gardens bespeckling the reefs below, Mactan Island casts a spell over everyone on shore or at sea  and this all makes for a perfect postcard. 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

BORNEO BECKONS

Saturday, May 17, 2014 Jan Sevilla





It’s inescapable. 

In the nucleus of Pantai Dalit Beach in Tuaran, hidden amidst the nature reserve, half an hour north of Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu; lies a slice of paradise that sets the scene for one of the world’s greatest tourist destinations. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

DEAR PARIS

Tuesday, May 06, 2014 Jan Sevilla





Upon reading this, I would probably be at 36,000 feet in a triple 7 Air France jet liner 12-time zones away from you.

Somehow I won't have to press the arret button as many times, as I did during the past two weeks while I was making my way to Saint-Germain-des-Prés station to the Sixteenth Arrondissement, only to find out that I missed my stop on the way home.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

MAJESTIC MOMENTS

Wednesday, April 09, 2014 Jan Sevilla
The hallucinogenic effect started to kick in – hard.

I blamed that man, hunching over the ebony Yamaha piano. Despite his being 75, something told me that behind the white tuxedo, the bow tie and the hearing aid he wears on his left ear, he is someone that could spin your thoughts and weave them perfectly, without guilt, into a distant past.

And little do the chatty aunties know that Ooi Eow Jin, a once sought-after musician has been playing since 1963 who performed with Sudirman and P. Ramlee. (Photo by glaringnotebook.com)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

BANGKOK - REBOOTED

Wednesday, April 02, 2014 Jan Sevilla




In ever-sunny, ever-carefree Bangkok, don’t let the beguiling temples, the vibrant markets, the swanky attractions surrounding the enchanting Chao-Phraya river and those infamous Thai smiles consume you. Allow your senses to be your guide in exploring the charms of its old secret little side lanes, bustling streets, plush shopping malls and chef-driven restaurants; and let them take you to the wonders of the many art spaces or just simply to a pastoral-shaded park.


Friday, 14 March 2014

A ROOM WITH (with more than just) A VIEW

Friday, March 14, 2014 Jan Sevilla





The world can still surprise you. Marseilles in the Provence region of France will let you in on many.


It was the winter of 2013 and the harsh weather forced us into chasing an elusive Mediterranean sun. Destination - Marseilles. Strong gusts haltered our wind-beaten Volvo and the six-hour drive across the Spanish border became more intimidating. It could have been like a scene out of the movies; our car felt like it was a Lilliputian dinghy out on the open sea, tossed and buffeted constantly from side to side. Driving up to France from Barcelona, the infamous French mistral wind was true to form.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

HOW TO SOUND LIKE A MALAYSIAN (even when you're not Malaysian)

Tuesday, March 04, 2014 Jan Sevilla


La.

Go ahead, say it.

It's kinda' like saying 'aaa' at the dentist, only shorter, and with a little more love.
Got it? Good. Because 'La' is the word that will turn your trip in Malaysia into a great adventure.

It's the open sesame to the heart of any Malaysian. It's the sambal on Nasi Lemak.
(If it's your first trip, I highly recommend this delectable dish anytime of the day).

Without 'La' Malaysia would just Maysia. That's like a hamburger that's just a hamger.

Photo by Sandy^in^a^bikini       

Monday, 24 February 2014

RICE BOWL FOR THE SOUL: TROPFEST SEA 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014 Jan Sevilla


The crowd, like migratory birds during winter, had flocked to the open space, spreading sheets of blanket over the sun-beaten grass of the Esplanade while waiting for the sun to set. Yet, it’s not winter in Penang, it was the beginning of the summer of 2014.

Two giant screens were hoisted in the middle of the field telling everyone on what is going to happen next.

The cheer from the crowd, the flashing of lights, the sound, the excitement and then the big thing happened. Held for the first time outside Australia, the Tropfest South East Asia 2014 Film Festival took the center stage, leaving thousands of audience, all hungry for a bowl of rice depicted in a seven-minute short film.

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