Former Microsoft Corporation executive Mickey Ashmore is the owner of the shoe brand Sabah, which he created in 2013. It produces leather shoes inspired by the traditional Turkish slipper and has five retail outlets worldwide.
A new flagship store in New York City, called Sabah House, opened this year. There, he can showcase the lines the company now produces in addition to its core collection, mostly small leather goods and accessories.
The latest extension of the Sabah brand – a fragrance inspired by two of Ashmore’s favorite places, Turkiye and the American Southwest.
Ashmore’s annual flight mile count is nearly 120,000 and he will automatically switch to Turkish Airlines whenever he can. “There’s a dish called kofte in Turkiye—they’re meatballs—and one of the best versions you can get is on that airline.”
Ashmore also promotes its stopover program, which allows anyone connecting via Istanbul to break their journey free of charge. “What’s more beautiful than flying around the world and then spending two days in Istanbul before reaching the next stop?”
The 35-year-old jet set lives in Nolita in New York. Here are his travel tips.
1. A board game can be the ultimate friend and pastime maker on the road.
I always carry a leather roll-up backgammon board with me—it’s a vintage corduroy from a friend in Dallas. One of the funniest ways to break the ice and invite a stranger or new acquaintance for a conversation is to offer a spontaneous game of backgammon on the go. I started doing this when I was dating someone; when we traveled, we took a board with us.
We were in Brazil once for three weeks, and after a week together, sometimes you wish you could date but you can’t chat anymore. The backgammon board is something to do.
We found people asking to play, and then it became something I did. I just traveled solo to Patmos in Greece a few weeks ago, and I would take my backgammon board to the beach, and I’ve probably met 12 people who would see the board and say, “Can I play?”
Chess requires a lot of concentration – you can’t really have a beer or two and play chess well, but you can have as many as you like and your backgammon game doesn’t necessarily get worse. It’s more social and you can teach someone to play in about 20 minutes.
2. There is a magical number of trips required to truly relax in a destination.
I define myself as a repeat offender as a traveller: I like to travel to the same place over and over again. That’s why I’ve been to Mexico City 10 times, or I go back to Oaxaca (Mexico) every winter. There’s something really nice about coming back to a place, seeing the same faces again, and you delve into it a little bit more.
I stay in the same hotel and even try to request the same room. Travel becomes less about seeing everything and more about being there. On the third trip, you know what to do and of course you find more things – that’s the magic number of visits, three, when you start to relax in one place.
3. The Middle East is renowned for cutting-edge luxury, but Ashmore recommends an alternative.
I went to Oman with a friend from Dubai for three days and we spent them hiking and camping – it was the opposite of luxury in the classic sense, but it was luxury in that we were totally alone. We camped on Fin beach, at the very end of a wadi, one of those streams that rise up into the desert.
I remember waking up on that beach – we had arrived there very late in the evening so we didn’t know exactly where we were. And suddenly that view! The emptiness of it all was incredible, the huge beach, the desert behind us and the sea in front.
I remember feeling very small and very happy to be there.
There’s a place called Musandam, right at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula and isolated from the rest of Oman, where we took a boat ride through all these fjords. See Telegraph Hill which is where the British ran the telegraph from India and connected through Europe.
4. Turn off your phone while on vacation.
I was only in Paris for eight days and turned off my phone and laptop the entire time. For photos, I have a Fujifilm digital camera that I travel with, but I honestly haven’t used it much.
For me, the greatest luxury these days is disconnection, not distance. In my mind, the phone is the biggest threat to actually being where you want to be.
I texted my company saying “Hey guys I’m going” and gave them the number of my friend I was traveling with, François, and told my parents and close friends.
I’ll tell you: nobody called him.
So many messages and calls are sent and made that they are just useless. By the end of that week, I was so reluctant to turn my phone back on that I found myself almost bummed for a few days.
5. For design and art, Ashmore recommends this Middle Eastern city.
There is a lot of interesting fashion going on in Beirut. Wandering around Achrafieh, I came across some really interesting designers. There is a company there called Creative Space Beirut which is run by a woman who works with very young designers to give them a platform and a voice.
And there’s a man named Kamal Mouzawak — he’s more in the hospitality space, but he’s so inspiring from a design standpoint. He has a series of spaces called Beit.
The hotel to stay in is the Hotel, which must be one of the oldest in Beirut and has been owned by the same family for a very long time.
I think people worry that Beirut is not safe. Everywhere in the world there is danger, in New York City. I’ve been there (Beirut) 10 or 12 times in the last 15 years and always felt welcome and safe there. —Bloomberg
Ashmore’s advice on Turkiye
Ashmore spends a lot of time in Turkiye at his factory and has an in-depth perspective on Istanbul.
1. How to move
People don’t think about using the Bosphorus as a means of transportation. There are public ferries, which are great fun, but there is always a very well developed network of private boats and taxis, which are not very expensive and can get you up and down the coast quickly. If you’re staying in a hotel, ask and they’ll give you someone’s number to call and pick you up or ferry you back and forth. It’s the most magical way to see that city, especially around sunset.
2. Where to go, to avoid your fellow travellers
People always spend too much time in the old city of Istanbul, walking around the tourist sites. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon, perhaps, unless you’re a super history buff. I spend a lot of my time on the water: a neighborhood called Kuzguncuk, and it’s on the Asian (Anatolian) side of the Bosphorus and it’s a pretty artistic part of the city, and not a very well known one. You’d think you’re in a small town, having no idea you’re in a city of 18 million people.
Another charming neighborhood is Kandilli, and on the ferry dock is a restaurant called Suna’nin Yeri, or Suna’s Place. It’s a fish restaurant right next to the mosque. The trick is to go around 5 or 6pm when the sun starts to set because you are looking back towards the European side.
It’s like you are on vacation in the center of Istanbul. It’s not expensive and has no frills, but it’s the coolest crowd.
In Kanlica, another neighborhood, when the ferry comes, people come to sell yogurt because it’s so famous there, and in Çengelköy they have a place called Çengelköy Borekcisi. Borek is a puff pastry that is famous all over Turkiye, and you can sit by the Bosphorus for breakfast, eat this puff pastry with a coffee or tea and watch the city wake up.
There’s a hotel there in Çengelköy called Sumahan that a family bought and turned into a really charming hotel where the rooms are directly facing the Bosphorus, so you can take a boat to get there. —Bloomberg