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.

Emailed photos become instant postcards with Postcardly

postcardsIf you’re anything like me, perhaps you’re a bit too…lazy to send postcards when you’re on vacation trip. Like most of us, I got sucked into the convenience of email, and it was a good excuse to not deal with looking for a post office in a foreign country. On the other hand, I love sharing vacation photos. Which, understandably, tests the patience of those who failed to receive a postcard from me while I was on said trip.

If you possess similar habits, I suggest you check out Postcardly. This recently-launched company allows you to email photo attachments from your laptop, an Internet cafe, or your Smartphone. Postcardly will then turn that photo into a real postcard (you provide the text, and they print it up on the back of the card), and mail it to as many people as you want (delivery takes between one day and a week). Postcardly isn’t the first company to come up with this concept, but it differs in that their postcards are the real deal; they’re not a phone app (i.e. no need for roaming capability or a global phone), pop-out cards, or printed on flimsy stock. They’re keepsakes, if you will.

Pretty nifty, especially for kids or people like my dad, who can’t fathom computers (or really, anyone; who doesn’t love receiving a postcard?). Postcardly costs $4.99 a month for five postcards, $9.99 a month for 15 postcards, or a one-time charge of $19.99 for 20 prepaid postcards. Currently, they only mail cards mailed domestically; international service coming soon. Go here for a free trial of three postcards. And don’t forget to write!

TripAdvisor database hacked – email addresses compromised

If you have ever rated something on TripAdvisor, you may be in for a nasty surprise in your inbox in the coming weeks. Last weekend, hackers penetrated the TripAdvisor member database and stole up to 20 million records.

In a statement issued by TripAdvisor on their site, the only information they say was impacted involved email address. TripAdvisor does not store credit card information or other financial data and passwords are said to be secure. As a precaution, it may still be safe to change your TripAdvisor password and anywhere else you used that same password.

The impact from this should be relatively minimal – most people could end up with a bit more spam than usual, but in today’s spam overload world, a couple more V1ag7A! emails won’t really be noticeable.

TripAdvisor claims they identified the vulnerability and shut it down immediately. The full email sent to customers can be found after the jump.


To our travel community:

This past weekend we discovered that an unauthorized third party had stolen part of TripAdvisor’s member email list.

We’ve confirmed the source of the vulnerability and shut it down. We’re taking this incident very seriously and are actively pursuing the matter with law enforcement.

How will this affect you? In many cases, it won’t. Only a portion of all member email addresses were taken, and all member passwords remain secure.

You may receive some unsolicited emails (spam) as a result of this incident. The reason we are going directly to you with this news is that we think it’s the right thing to do. As a TripAdvisor member, I would want to know.

Unfortunately, this sort of data theft is becoming more common across many industries, and we take it extremely seriously.

I’d also like to reassure you that TripAdvisor does not collect members’ credit card or financial information, and we never sell or rent our member list. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to keep your personal information secure at TripAdvisor. I sincerely apologize for this incident and appreciate your membership in our travel community.

Steve Kaufer
Co-founder and CEO

The aerogramme and the email

aerogrammeOnce upon a time, the cheapest, most convenient way for travelers abroad to write to friends and family back home was the aerogramme. This ingenious creation was a razor-thin, super-light, roughly 6-x-11-inch sheet of blue-colored paper that was designed to be folded into thirds, creating six postcard-size panels (both sides of the paper were used).

One of these panels was pre-stamped and printed with dotted lines for the recipient’s address; four of the panels were blank, to be used for writing your message; and in the Greek aerogramme that lies before me now, the other panel features a photo of whitewashed buildings rising up a rocky brown hill against a deep blue sky.

Adjoining the stamp-and-address panel were two gummed flaps; when you finished your message, you licked and folded these flaps to seal the note. Then all you had to do was drop the aerogramme into a mailbox. No weighing, no paying, no standing in line. This was the height of epistolary convenience when I lived in France, Greece, and Japan in the 1970s.

The challenge, of course, was how much information you could squeeze into those four blank panels – how precisely and minutely could you write and still be legible? On that Greek ‘gramme to my parents, I managed 60 lines of about 11 words each, enough to cover the highlights of a spring swing through Egypt (riding Arabian stallions four hours into the desert, climbing the Great Pyramid, touring the temples and tombs of Luxor), a quick outline of plans for my just-starting summer trip (staying with friends in Nairobi and exploring Kenya on day-trips, climbing Kilimanjaro and going on safari in Tanzania with the family of two of my Greek students, then returning to the States via Santorini and Paris), plus the obligatory update on my financial situation.

aerogramme

Writing home is a whole lot easier in 2011. The digital equivalent of the aerogramme isn’t confined to six panels, and doesn’t take weeks to reach its intended recipient. You can write as much as you like, and send it to as many people as you like, and it arrives instantaneously! And still no weighing, paying, or waiting in line (unless you count the occasional wait for an open terminal at an Internet cafe). Though the Internet hasn’t reached every crack and crevice of the planet, I think it’s safe to say that there are vastly more digital post offices now than there were stone-and-stucco ones back in the day. And what about that evocative photo of those whitewashed hillside homes? Now you can attach your own.

Luckily, my parents kept big rubber-banded bundles of my aerogrammes so that I can peruse them now, but with emails, you don’t have to rely on anyone; you can store them yourself. And instead of having to paw through bundles of letters when you’re looking for a specific passage 35 years later, you can effortlessly search your archives to locate that stallion’s-eye view of sunset in the Sahara. So convenient!

Is there any downside to this technological evolution? Well, maybe just this one. There’s a kind of palpable poignancy to that Greek aerogramme. I hold it in my hands, trace the rough letters and creases in the page, smell its musty perfume – and it’s a pale blue magic carpet that whisks me back to the moment in the Athens airport when I sat at a small table, with a demitasse of Greek coffee, scribbling. I taste the thick, bitter coffee, the sludgy residue on my lips, feel the dry dusty heat, the anticipation in my fingertips….

Will my emails transport me that same way when I read them three and a half decades from today?

Sign up for flash-sale alerts with Jetsetter.com

Want to be in the know about deep discounts and deals on luxury travel packages and top-tier hotels? Well then you need to wrangle yourself an invite to the Jetsetter.com email list (or just surf on over to Wendy Perrin’s post and use her “exclusive link” for readers).

According to Perrin, Jetsetter is a “flash-sale site that negotiates with noteworthy hotels, cruise lines, and other luxe travel suppliers to offer slashed rates unavailable to the general public.” Those who get on the email list will receive a notice of the next days’ sales each night at 8pm. Each sale lasts just two days, or until the availability runs out.

Sounds pretty cool, right? I used Perrin’s link to sign and up and browse some of the current….um, sales, and found that there are some deep discounts offered here. But remember, this is a luxury travel site. Half off of $800 is still way out of my price range. Budget travelers may have a harder time finding a deal they can afford….but it’s not impossible. One deal currently being offered is a Superior Queen Guestroom at the West Hollywood Sunset Tower for $129 (as opposed to the usual $225-$275). The discounted, but still $650 a night, Asia cruise is probably a little less affordable for most people.

Perrin was able to offer the exclusive sign-up link through Conde Nast’s new partnership with Jetsetter, which is a member of the Gilt Groupe. Each month, Jetsetter will offer special deals on products and services sold by some of the magazines advertisers.