Daily Secret offers insider intel for Istanbul, Athens, Shanghai and more

insider intelLast month, I went to a designer-clothing pop-up sale in the back of a restaurant, scored an invite to an exclusive party with Champagne and gourmet truffles, and got the manager’s private phone number of a hot new nightlife spot. I’m not famous or especially well-connected, I’m just a subscriber to DailySecret.com. Daily Secret is website and email newsletter that delivers insider intel for twelve cities from Buenos Aires to San Francisco, plus English-language editions for Athens, Istanbul, and Shanghai. Founded in Athens in 2010, Daily Secret spread to Istanbul last March, with over 200 secrets and counting.

The Istanbul secrets are compiled and curated by a team of 15 “scouts,” ranging from a fashion blogger, to a food critic, to a non-profit specialist in new companies who often hears about new ventures before they open. You can register with the site to receive the daily secrets, or search online by category, neighborhood, or date posted. Not all secrets are fancy or expensive, but they tend to be sophisticated and high-end. Daily Secret likes to be the first to write about a new service or business, or provide an added value for readers: an exclusive discount or giveaway, the unlisted phone number, or a spot on the guest list of an event.insider intelI met with Laura Wells, co-founder and editor of Istanbul Daily Secret, to get her best tips and favorites for the Turkish cultural capital. With a background in news journalism, Laura is an American expat with a discerning eye and impeccable tastes, who vets each secret and hopes that if you like the secret’s description, you’ll like the place too.

A year after the Capital of Culture is over, why travel to Istanbul in 2012?
Istanbul is not about trends or time-sensitive titles, though it is ‘hot’ these days. Istanbul has been around for thousands of years, and there’s nowhere else like it. It’s exotic, and yet also very accessible to foreigners, in terms of culture and things to do.

Essence of Daily Secret in one sentence?
We discover the best insider ‘secrets’ of each city for our members (in our case, Istanbul), that most locals don’t even know about!

Favorite museum/culture spot with no tourist buses in sight?
Turkey is now becoming known internationally for its modern art market. The most impressive art museum in Turkey, I think, is actually a private, family-owned museum. Its collection pairs renowned artists from around the world with local Turkish talents, and entrance is free! The Elgiz Museum/Proje 4L often has receptions & exhibits of emerging Turkish artists as well as many panel discussions in English. It’s one of Istanbul’s best-kept secrets, truly!

Where to go for an only-in-Istanbul souvenir, that’s actually made in Turkey?
I love artistic souvenirs that can become heirlooms, and we recently discovered a brand-new company started by the wife of Turkey’s Minister of EU Affairs, Egemen Bagis. His wife Beyhan has worked with local artisans to develop Anatoli, which offers three lines of exquisite pieces for the home ranging from straight traditional to modern based on an old motif. Beyhan Bagis conducted research with a professor of Turkic Studies to resurrect these designs and unusual pieces; for instance, Anatoli carries an incredibly elaborate silver-plated, hand-wrought sculpture that’s actually an Ottoman-style rose water holder to make the room more fragrant. It’s the closest thing to owning an antique (there are many fakes here!). The prices start at 65 TL, so nearly anyone can purchase something, and they’ll all fit in your carry-on. Read more here.

Best new hotel in a hip neighborhood?
For a reasonably-priced (and now very hip) hotel, Georges is a standout! The co-owner & manager Alex Varlik, a Parisian transplant, is very hospitable, and I love that they preserved this historic building’s original details. You’re steps from the Galata Tower, but the entrance’s in on such a quiet, little cobblestone street. Even Istanbul’s glamorous set is now flocking to this “old town” establishment, the intimate restaurant/bar Le Fumoir. Just opened this month across the Golden Horn, HHK Hotel is a charming new property with sauna, pool, and hammam, and we’re giving away a 2-night stay in February. The winner can be from anywhere in the world, you just have to be a Daily Secret member.

Comfy and cool bar you wish was in your neighborhood?
To hang out with the young art crowd & intelligentsia, head to the less-visited Asian side, for your pick of funky hangouts on Kadikoy’s Kadife Street (aka Bar Street). Karga at #16 is an art and performance space in an old building designed by the same architect as the train station. It recently celebrated 15 years and has its own magazine. Hidden above street level, Dunia at #19 is a new 2-story restaurant/bar that prints its schedules so you can hear a performance, watch a movie, and see an exhibit. Arkaoda at #18 is a lounge for music lovers, and the kind of place the owner doesn’t necessarily want you to find – unless you know someone, that is.

Where to splurge on a last-night-in-town dinner?
For a proper Ottoman meal and to try dishes you can almost never find anywhere else, as they did with the former Empire, try Pasha Bebek. Unlike many of the restaurants serving the traditional cuisine here, this is elegant, and in a ‘hot’ neighborhood. The hostess, Anita, is like an encyclopedia about all the dishes and she loves sharing the history behind them. She’s there every night and speaks wonderful English.

Recommended tour guides for more insider intel?
One of Daily Secret’s employees, Resat Erel, is also a long-standing private tour guide, also fluent in English & French. He’s a member of TURSAB, the tourist guide association, and he mainly gives tours to visiting dignitaries. He knows all the ‘secrets’ of Istanbul and is a great asset to us! In return, we have to give him up on certain days. If you want to have a private tour based on your preferences, he’ll work with you to shape your itinerary. His email address is: resaterel@gmail.com, phone +90.532.670.1369. For a culinary tour to try lots of different dishes, in very little time, and get to walk around the city or cross the Bosphorus by boat – Delicious Istanbul is a new company providing cooking classes and tasting tours for 2-6 people.

What’s happening in 2012 for Daily Secret?
Vancouver just launched, and we’re also launching Android & iPhone applications for each city this month (we’ll be announcing them on our sites, and they’ll be available through our sites and in the iTunes store), and people will be able to see the secrets in each neighborhood as they pass through, like a personal tour guide. We’re also working on English versions of all foreign cities.

Sign up and browse the secrets at www.dailysecret.com and find them on Facebook.

Canada “as cool as” America

In a bold and unexpected move, the US State Department issued a firm statement of non-rebuttal in response to United Nations Security Council Resolution 010410 Recognizing Canada has become almost as cool as America . . .” The unanimous resolution predictably cited the cast of SNL, polar bears, those tight pants worn by Canadian mounties, and the nifty way Canada keeps Alaska separate from us.

Now that it’s cool, “Canada is the new Spring Break,” announced MTV tween reporter Gina Voxx. Hot new destinations include bars serving minors in Windsor, Ontario and the birthplace of that guy who invented basketball. US State Department Travel Warnings should reflect the upgrade in Canada’s status within the next 36 months. Until that time, US Citizens should take precautions in dealing with funny, good-natured people but especially when confronted by self-righteous, socially-conscious northerners who recycle. US Embassy staff in Ottawa advise US citizens to try and blend in by not complaining, apologizing frequently (“I’m sore-y”), and then returning back to America with a huge chip on your shoulder.

US President Obama added his two Canadian cents by issuing a spontaneous speech that was later televised on Canada’s only TV station: “I have a dream . . . that every child in every school in America. . . . will have his or her own Canada Arm”. Canadian businesses have responded to this news by increasing exports of whiny female singers from the prairie provinces and rigging American vending machines to accept Canadian “money”.

Not all Americans are enthusiastic by this sudden change in status quo. Hundreds of mouth-foaming protestors marched to the Canadian Embassy in Washington to throw hockey pucks at an effigy of Sidney Crosby. “Fine, but Canadians only do cool things after they move to America,” said one protester. “Canadian Trivial Pursuit is stupid!” screamed another. An arrest was made after vandals spray-painted “Maple syrup sucks” on a nearby wall. Canadian counter-protesters outnumbered the American crowd 3-to-1 but they were too busy making a documentary about the protesters to really care.

America’s Immigration & Naturalization Service admits that over 300,000 people cross the Canadian-American border everyday, however they fail to specify in which direction said people are traveling.


The United Statements of America

In God We TrustIn the Strange Maps blog we trust. “In Mottos We Trust? United Statements of America” is a terrific map which features each state’s motto — translated, where appropriate. Check out what yours says here. Some of our favorites?

  • Wyoming: Equal Rights (because they were the first state to give women the right to vote. Way to go, Wyoming!)
  • Oklahoma: Labor Conquers All Things (that depresses the hell out of us)
  • Alabama: We Dare Defend Our Right (badass!)
  • Virginia: Thus Always to Tyrants (wtf? That’s your motto?)
  • West Virginia: Mountaineers are Always Free (also badass!)

South Dakota gets the Lame Award for stealing Arkanas’ motto and stamping God on it; they changed “The People Rule” to “Under God the People Rule.” I’m gonna go pray in their schools now. Close runner up is Maine, whose motto is “I Direct” because they used to hold their presidential elections before anybody else.

Somebody’s a little full of themselves. I’m looking at you, Maine.

Thanks, Brian O’Neal, for the tip!

Photo of the Day (12.07.08)

I don’t think this Chinese Terracotta warrior ever expected to become a 21st Century sex symbol. Flickr user troshy seems to be worried about this guy’s popularity though, so he gave him some cool aviator shades. I know nothing about the rules regarding touching or interacting with these statues, but I do really like the contrast – it ends up looking like a 200 B.C. US Weekly photo. Pretty hilarious.

Have any unique travel photos you’d like to share with the world? Why not upload them to the Gadling pool on Flickr? We might just pick one as our Photo of the Day.

Hip, Cheap Boutique Hotels Challenge the Mainstream in Asia

Cities like Hong Kong are known for their 5-star hotels. They are so known for these monuments to luxury that visitors might think that there are no 4,3,2, or 1 star options in the city. They’d almost be right. Not only does Hong Kong have highest population density in the world, it probably has the highest density of 5-star inns. Of course there are cheaper places to lay your head. But a new trend in the hotel game means you won’t have to put up with the shifty characters of Tsim Sha Tsui’s Chungking Mansions if you want a cheap room. Plenty of boutique hotels and mid-range chains are offering rooms for between $50-$100 per night.

Holiday Inn Express and Courtyard by Marriott are getting in on the mid-range hotel boom in Honkers, aiming their service at businesspeople not on an expense account who don’t want to pay 5-star prices. Boutique hotels like Hotel Jen (HK Island), Panorama (Kowloon) and Cosmo (Wan Chai) are part of the new trend as well. These places are all clean, well-furnished and tech friendly. They are centrally located. Most have a pool, exercises facilities and a hip vibe. Sure, they are not equipped to handle any outlandish request like luxury hotels are, but you don’t really need to smoke your hand rolled cigar while sitting in a bath filled with rose petals. Do you?