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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Merhaba!  I recently had an opportunity to travel to Turkey with a group of family members including my 10 and 7-year-old daughters to attend a wedding. I had heard great things about Turkey and was very excited about the trip. I was also looking forward to exposing my children to such a different culture than what they’re accustomed to. I consider traveling part of their education and I was eager to share the different sites, architecture, food, music and other cultural aspects of Turkey.  I had read and heard everywhere that Turks love children, but had also heard there was not much in Istanbul for children to do.  But I didn’t need to worry.  As I usually find out on trips, after a certain age, children are much more easily entertained than adults!  For the most part, they’re also easier to please and impress.

After a stopover in JFK, we left on our overnight non-stop flight to Istanbul. The girls loved having their own personal video screens with a large selection of age appropriate movies and games.   After our arrival at the pristine and modern Ataturk International airport, we sleepily and slowly made our way to our hotel in Sultanahmet, the historic district of Istanbul. It was not too hard to convince everyone to take a short nap but it was not easy to wake them up from it!  As I usually like to do when I arrive in a new city, we decided to take an open-top bus city tour.  It’s a great way to get a good overview of the city as well as learning about the history and sites you are seeing thanks to the audio commentary provided.  Of course the kids loved sitting on the top-level of the double-decker bus.  It was great seeing the different parts of the city, fortresses, mosques, parks, palaces along with the street vendors, fish markets, children playing and local families out and about. 

We had an early dinner at the hotel, our first round of Turkish food.  As we found out throughout the trip, it was not easy pleasing the girls palates. Although they eat a variety of foods at home, Turkish food is very different from what they are used to; from their use of different spices, yogurt and vegetables to the different grains, and ways of cooking.  But we almost always found something they could eat such as pasta, delicious pide (similar to white pizza) , french fries, calamari, rice, humus, some kebabs and watermelon (often served after dinner) and they were happy to find that Turkey has a huge variety of many types of fun shaped and delicious breads which we all enjoyed throughout the trip.  They loved buying fresh squeezed orange juice from the many juice stands and even found they loved apple tea, which is served in tiny glass cups throughout the day and after dinner.  My oldest even brought some back to make at home!  

After an early wake up due to the time difference and the 5:30am call to prayer heard throughout the city, we went for breakfast.  This was an easy meal each morning. There were lots of great choices at the buffet including more western choices such as cereals to more Turkish choices such as olives, feta and other cheeses, yogurt, etc.  The girls mostly enjoyed fresh bread with Nutella every morning, a rare treat back home!   Our first day of sightseeing by foot was spent visiting Ayasofia, where everyone was as impressed with the architecture and frescoes as the girls were taken by the cute kitties walking around the grounds (and throughout the streets of Istanbul).  We also visited the Basilica Cistern, a very interesting site and welcomed break from the mid-day heat. Unfortunately my 7-year-old did not care for the dark, underground site and couldn’t wait to leave.  Fortunately it did not take long to visit and getting ice cream and getting to feed the pigeons afterwards quickly put the scary visit behind her.  The Blue Mosque was beautiful and grand.  The girls loved finally getting to wear the scarves we brought to cover their hair and were very interested to hear about muslim customs. After walking around the Hippodrome, with the different columns, including a small obelisk, we rested our feet during a nice outdoor lunch where the girls had some pide and the waiter made napkin roses for them!  Refreshed, we headed for the Grand Bazaar.  There isn’t much you can’t find there.  The girls were fascinated by the vendors and different types of merchandise.  They had their cheeks pinched by vendors several times (a typical gesture towards children in Turkey) and one especially forceful pinching session drew my 7-year-old to tears after she had walked away.  I found that her big blue eyes were quite irresistible and while she loved the compliments she received, she did not care for the pinching!  My 10-year-old enjoyed buying her own souvenirs and asking for prices at the different stalls and making her own decisions as to whether the price was right. Dinner was enjoyed by all tonight in one of the quaint pedestrian alleys of Sultanahmet. To the delight of the girls, we got to sit at a low table surrounded by a bench covered with lots of pillows were we sat to eat our dinner. This was their chance to eat dinner on the couch!

The next three days were divided between sightseeing and wedding related events.  We walked across the Galata bridge, where we checked out the fishermen and then rode the tram to Galata tower and saw the amazing 360 degree views form the top.  We had dinner at Hamdi, a great restaurant with delicious Turkish food and beautiful views of the waterfront and New Mosque (Yeni Cami).  Some of the adults enjoyed a visit to Cagaloglu, one of the oldest, biggest and most impressive Turkish baths in Istanbul.  We visited Topkapi Palace, a large and beautiful complex of which the nicest and most interesting part was the harem, where we saw beautiful tiled mosaics and the girls were interested to learn that the sultans had many wives but there was a special place where only “the favorites” were allowed.  They were amused by the “posh” baths with gold-plated faucets, mosaic and marble walls and floors yet “toilets” that were carved out of stone and at floor level.  Their favorite palace however was probably Dolmabahce.  Whereas Topkapi has more Asian and Ottoman influences and overall appearance, Dolmabahce is much more Western.  So based on their idea of a palace, Dolmabahce was more, well, palatial!  Huge carpeted rooms in reds and blues with heavy French draperies, high ceilings, French ornate furniture, crystal chandeliers everywhere, high canopy beds, maids quarters, children’s playing rooms, libraries and every other type of room imaginable definitely impressed them. Of course they were also impressed to learn that president Obama had had a state dinner there!  We also all thoroughly enjoyed the Bosphorus cruise.  The ferry is simple, with bench seating and a snack bar on board.  But the views are amazing on both sides.  We made quick stops along the way where we beautiful waterfront homes and lots of different types of boats.  We got off the ferry at the last stop, Anadolu Kavagi, and had a seafood lunch and got to walk around the small town and visit a couple of shops before boarding the return ferry. 

The wedding we attended couldn’t have been more beautiful. It was held at Del Mare, a beautiful restaurant with excellent food on the Asian side of Istanbul.  The setting on the water is amazing, and the beautiful sunset was a perfect backdrop for the couple arriving by the restaurant’s private boat.  Later, once dark, we enjoyed the view of the Bosphorus Bridge, with its light display that changes colors every few seconds.  We had a great time dancing to both American and Turkish music and really enjoyed the food.

We left the amazing historical city and the hustle and bustle of Istanbul behind after 5 days for a very different experience.  We flew from Sabiha Gocken airport, on the Asian side of Istanbul, to Kayseri, in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, known for its striking landscape, unusual rock formations, some known as “fairy chimneys”, underground cities, and entire cities built inside these rock formations, including homes and churches.  On our drive from Kayseri to Goreme, where our hotel was located in the center of Cappadocia, we saw the landscape changing from flat rural land to unusually carved mountains and soon enough we spotted the first fairy chimneys!  Many hotels in this area have taken over some of these ancient “cave homes” and have made the necessary changes to convert them to hotels.  A cave hotel is a must if you want to get the full experience here.  We stayed at Kelebek hotel, a beautiful cave hotel at the top of a hill looking down on Goreme and the valleys surrounding it as well as mountains in the background.  The views from the many levels, patios, restaurant and pool of the hotel were extraordinary.  We never tired of it.  Of course the girls thought it was very cool to stay in a room that was carved into the rock!  And the unusual scenery was unlike anything they had ever seen.  The small and refreshing pool was a welcome sight for them. I enjoyed my local Efes (beer) on one of the loungers with a great view while they splashed in the pool and made friends with an Italian girl who was also on vacation. I enjoyed watching them interact and trying to communicate in languages the others didn’t really speak, with a lot of gestures, grunts, pointing, and translating help from the parents.  But adults can learn from kids.  They managed to have a wonderful time and make a new friend despite the obstacles.  After the relaxing break, we headed for Goreme’s outdoor museum.  It was an amazing place full of previously inhabited cave homes, cave churches with frescos still on the walls, etc.  The girls really enjoyed going in the different rooms and trying to figure out what the rooms and different carved niches were used for and going through door openings, cave hallways and up and down steps carved into the rock to access the different rooms.

The next morning, after being woken at sunrise by the call to prayer coming from the nearby minaret, I decided to go outside my room to one of the hotel’s patios to admire the sunrise.  It was probably the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen.  The colors in the sky were breathtaking and the amazing landscape below made it even better.  Soon, I started seeing the hot air balloons rising up into the sky and before too long, I walked around the entire hotel counting a total of 20 balloons in the sky. This is a popular (albeit pricey) activity in this area that most say is worth the cost and I hope to be able to participate in on my next visit.  After a delicious and plentiful breakfast, we departed on our full day tour of the area.  We started with a 3 km hike in the Rose Valley. It was hot and we drank plenty of water but the views and terrain were unusual and breathtaking. The tour guide picked grapes off forgotten vines which we ate along the way and made the girls forget about the heat for a while.  The path was mostly sandy and could be a little slippery at times. So shoes with good treads are recommended!  After we were picked up by our van, we drove to Pasabag (Monks Valley), where the most unusual mushroom-shaped rock formations can be seen and explored. After some refreshing fresh squeezed orange juice from a vendor, we got back in the van and went to a local large pottery studio and factory where all pottery is made by hand, mostly using pottery wheels and painted by local artists.  The quality was incredible and appreciated even by the non-connoisseurs.  The level of skill, precision and patience required to finish some of the pieces was hard to imagine.  After our visit, we had an excellent lunch at a local restaurant before heading to Kaymakli underground city.  Not for the claustrophobic, or the very tall, this was a very interesting and entertaining tour.  We wandered through 4 floors (all below ground) around the different rooms once used for sleeping, eating, stables, storage, cooking and more, all connected by tunnels were everyone but the girls (finally grateful to be short) had to bend at the waste and crouch down to get around. 

On our way back to town we stopped at an ATV rental shop and decided to take a 1 hour tour (another great way to see the area).  We had an absolute blast going down dirt roads and off-road.  It was a first time on ATVs for all of us and not only was it a fun way to see the are from a different perspective but it was an exciting and great way to end the day.  After being “air dusted” by the guide, we went to dinner and went back to the hotel for one last quick dip in the pool.  To the disappointment of my 7-year-old, the tooth fairy did not come from one of the fairy chimneys this night, no matter how much wiggling she did during the day.  It wasn’t until the flight back to Istanbul that she finally lost her tooth and hoped the tooth fairy would know where to find her!  The following morning was a repeat of the previous one with the amazing sunrise, views and hot air balloons in the sky. After breakfast we departed for the airport for our flight back to Istanbul.  Because most flights back to the U.S. depart early in the morning, we had to spend the night in Istanbul. For convenience, we chose to stay near Ataturk airport and stayed at the recently opened Courtyard by Marriott. I was very happy we stayed there. There are not many great choices around and I would guess that this is the best one. It was certainly the nicest Courtyard I had ever stayed in with very large, modern and nicely appointed rooms, nice bathroom, good restaurant and a beautiful circular indoor pool which we enjoyed this afternoon before dinner and our last night in Turkey.

I highly recommend Turkey as a travel destination. It is such a wonderful mix of Eastern and Western cultures!  It’s a perfect alternative for those who do not want to travel further than Europe, are comfortable in Europe, yet want to explore something quite different.  And for those who have been to Turkey on a cruise and explored the coastal towns should return and explore Istanbul in-depth as well as some of the beautiful inland areas such as Cappadocia.

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Our voyage began with an extended stay in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Amsterdam is a beautiful, bustling city which offers a variety of walking tours that I highly recommend.  I chose to be adventurous and stroll through the old city on my own following a printed walking tour from Frommer’s which took about 3 hours.  This tour highlighted all of the “must see’s” of Amsterdam:  the Royal Palace, New Church, the National Monument, the flower markets, Zeedijk and the Red Light District, and other sites.  If you have time, I recommend ordering tickets for Anne Frank’s house online before you get to Amsterdam (the lines are quite long, but can be avoided if you purchase tickets early).   Canal cruises are available on most streets, but note, if you venture a bit into town you will find some better deals.     

Leaving Amsterdam, we set sail for Cologne, Germany aboard our river barge, the River Ambassador.  Cologne is a wonderful German town.  Our guide took us through the Dom (Cathedral), where you can see the Shrine to the Three Magi, and to many historic points of Cologne.   A great stop is to go to Früh, the largest brew house in Germany (it is actually larger than Munich’s).   The local beer is known as Kolsh.  Make sure to put a coaster on top of your beer when you are finished though, or they will keep bringing them to you! 

The next stop was Koblenz, Germany where the Moselle and Rhine rivers meet.   The narrow streets of Koblenz are quaint and picturesque.  A morning tour takes you to the historic churches and through the Old town.  The cruise line offers an extended afternoon tour to Marksburg Castle for a fee.  We chose to walk around town and to climb the William I monument for a beautiful view of where the two rivers join.  There is also a cable car that takes you to the Electoral Palace and over the rivers for 8 euros. We were docked there late into the evening, so we ventured back into town to try the local wines at a typical Weinstube (wine tavern).    

The next morning we were up early to sail the romantic Rhine Valley.  More than 40 castles are located along this stretch of the river.  Our cruise director narrated the history of the area and stories of the castles as we enjoyed the view from the deck.  Local beer, sausage, and pretzels were served. 

That afternoon we sailed into Rüdesheim.  Our cruise director took those interested in a quick tour of the small village.  Time on your own could be spent exploring the self-playing music instrument museum, shopping, taking the tram up to the Neiderwald monument, or enjoying local wines at a winestube.  A local favorite is Rüdesheim coffee:  a coffee made with brandy and set on fire.  An afternoon wine tasting tour to Schloss Vollrads vineyard was wonderful.  Even if you do not drink wine, I recommend taking this tour to see the beautiful Riesling wine roads.  A paid excursion into town for a typical German dinner with entertainment was offered.   (As a note, there are many biergartens with entertainment, so you could choose to do this on your own without paying for an excursion.) Having experienced something similar before, we chose to have a German meal on deck and watch the sunset on the Rhine.  This had to be one of the highlights of the trip.  I certainly recommend taking advantage and signing up for this whatever night it might be offered (they can only do it on a night when you are not sailing). 

The next morning we docked in Speyer, Germany.  A tour was offered of the town in the morning, but you could certainly walk this on your own.  Speyer is small, but quaint.  The largest Romanesque cathedral in Europe is situated in the center of town and is a “must see.”  An extended tour to Heidelberg is planned for this day.  I recommend taking the tour to see this very large, beautiful castle and to have some time on your own in town for shopping and sightseeing in Heidelberg. 

 Leaving Germany we set sail for Strasbourg, France.  A beautiful city situated in the Alsace region of France.  A morning canal tour of the city and the L’Ill River was wonderful!  The rest of your day was spent sightseeing on your own.  We chose to stroll through the cathedral and then have lunch in the area known as Petit France. 

 Our last day was a full-day tour along the Alsatian Wine Roads.  We started in the small French village of Keysersberg.  Here we saw the famous storks which migrate from South Africa to this region.  Our next stop was in Riquewihr, another picturesque French wine village.  You must try the local tarte flambee!  C’est fantastique!  There are many wine tasting rooms from the local vineyards located here, but you must have a planned tasting time if you want to enjoy these.  Your local guide can schedule one if asked.

 Our last stop of the day was in Colmar.  We chose to walk to the area known as Little Venice and sightsee there.  Located in Colmar is the home of Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.  We were here on a Saturday and also enjoyed a beautiful orchestra concert in the park!

Many locks are located along the Rhine.  You will certainly want to be on deck to watch sailing through one.  As we sailed from the Alsace region, we entered several.  The oldest lock is located just before Basel and was built in 1932. 

Our cruise ended in Basel, Switzerland.  Here we disembarked and added on a few more days to see Switzerland.  Walking tours of Basel are quite easy.  You can see the Münster Cathedral and the Marketplatz Square all located in the Old Town.  On Sundays most shops are closed in Switzerland, so keep this in mind. 

We took a tour to Lucerne, Switzerland.  This has to be one of the most beautiful cities, perfectly located along the Alps.  A crystal clear lake runs through the city.  The old bridges where history unfolds in pictures as you walk through are amazing.  Small restaurants and historic churches align the waterfront.  It is no wonder this town is such a tourist attraction.   

Our last day, we took the train to Zürich.  There are trains that run every half hour from Basel directly to Zürich.  The train station in Zürich is located in the heart of the Old town.  A walking tour here is quite easy as well.  Make sure to visit St. Peter’s (the largest clock face in the world), Grossmünster, and Fraümunster.   Also Bahnhofstrasse is a famous street for very expensive shopping (similar to Rodeo Drive).  I recommend taking time for lunch somewhere along the lake; we chose to have Swiss fondue.  The portions are large so make sure to share!

The entire trip was wonderful!  Traveling in late August- early September the weather overall was very pleasant.  Temperatures varied from mid 50’s to low 70’s.  Make sure to plan to dress in layers (cooler mornings and evenings, but warmer afternoons).  Although we had some rain showers, this really did not interfere with our tours or sightseeing.  The food on the ship was good. They incorporated many local cuisine dishes which were enjoyable; having local wines and beers included with dinner was also nice.  The ship had been recently renovated and all accommodations were comfortable and clean.  The staff on board was extremely friendly and accommodating.  I would definitely recommend taking this cruise to see a beautiful part of the world! By H. McKenzie.

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As we drove into Hot Springs and I looked up over the tree tops and saw the clock on the Homestead’s impressive and distinctive red brick clock tower, I realized that this was no ordinary deluxe resort. This first impression was over twenty years ago and yet I still get that excited feeling when I drive into the small village and look up and see the Tower.

After checking in, we were walking to our tower room when we ran into friends in the lobby. Surprisingly, my wife recalls that years ago this couple had said how much they loved the Homestead, but had also said “put me in the ‘old section’, not the new part”. Our room, located in the “old section” was beautifully and freshly decorated and the bathroom was newly renovated. The wallpaper appeared new as well as the rest of the room’s furniture but nothing could mask the distinct slope of the floor – something that’s charming and prevalent in buildings as old as this one.  Thirty five percent of all rooms have been renovated this year.

We had a very late dinner reservation so we ate a late lunch and then met our friends at the outdoor pool. Quite a few guests were trying to get cool at the pool as the temperature rose into the nineties; something that rarely happens in the mountains. There were plenty of lounges and umbrellas and the well attended bar was busy serving various adult beverages until it closed at 6 p.m.

The dining room was still busy as we arrived a few minutes early for our 9 p.m. reservation.  The trio of musicians was playing easy to listen and dance-to music, and husbands danced with wives next to young dads dancing with their pre-teen daughters. Greeting us as we walked in was Woody Pettus, the every present maitre d’ of the Main Dining Room for fifty years. Whether he really remembers you or not, he sure makes you feel special and lets you know how much he enjoys seeing you that evening.   Among our party, we ordered the Sautéed Mountain Trout “Homestead” with peeled grapes and almonds in lemon butter sauce, duck breast, and medallions of pork – all prepared as you would expect from the finest restaurant. The Homestead offers two other elegant dinner venues, the 1776 Grille and Sam Snead’s Tavern, but we all agreed the Main Dining Room was one of the Homestead’s truly unique experiences and we decided to eat here every night.

The next morning I arose early for an 8:20 a.m. starting time on the Homestead’s Cascade golf course, considered by many to be the finest mountain course in the US, host of several USGA championships, and ranked by Golf Digest #12 on its Best American Resort Courses. The Cascades course is one of three championship courses at the Homestead. I am glad to say that my driver kept me in the fairway most of the day and the greens are usually reachable if your irons are straight, which by some unusual circumstance mine were that day. But, as those of us who play a lot of golf have come to understand, it’s tough for everything to be working all in the same day; my atrocious putting prevented me from having a great score on this impeccably groomed course – but I will putt better the next time I play it.

While Bill and I were enjoying the Cascades, our wives decided to enjoy the services offered by the Homestead’s world class spa.  Built on the centuries-old tradition of “taking the waters,” the spa brings you the most innovative of luxury spa treatments available today in a unique historic setting. Whether you want a typical spa offering such as one of eight different massages, hydrotherapies, body therapies, skin care or hair and nail therapies, the spa offers you many choices to help you relax and to revitalize yourself. My wife and Barbara each reserved a different treatment and each complimented their individual therapist as being extremely professional.

The boys met the girls after golf and spa appointments for a quick lunch and we all lounged for the rest of the afternoon; I got a little more pool time and one more frozen margarita! High tea is served complimentary in the main lobby each afternoon, but we passed on this today. There are too many other activities to list here, but suffice to say, they have something for everybody; fishing, horseback riding, carriage rides, sporting clays, falconry, just to name a few.

Both couples met the next morning to enjoy the Homestead’s legendary buffet breakfast. Served every morning in the Main Dining Room, it offered a wide selection of fresh fruits, ham, bacon, eggs and omelets cooked to order, pancakes, waffles, pastries, and much more; the woman ahead of me at the cooking station ordered chocolate chip pancakes!

After a few purchases in the shops located in the hotel, it was time to pack and say goodbye to one of Virginia’s finest resorts, if not THE finest. If I went to the Homestead every month, perhaps it wouldn’t be so special, but since I don’t go often, it is truly a wonderful experience that everyone should enjoy periodically.

  

Since this is a Virtuoso property, our clients always receive the best price available either for a room or for one of numerous inclusive packages, plus the value-added Virtuoso amenities. These amenities include FREE breakfast daily (that’s a $50 per day bonus), a $100 activity credit per stay, early check-in and late check-out based on availability and a FREE upgrade at check-in if available. By Dan Smith.

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Brenta RiverCurrently in Padova.  It is unusually hot and humid today.  Thank goodness the hotel is very good, with excellent AC. Many stores, restaurants and buses don’t have it. Yesterday we went on an outing on buses and on a boat (burchiello) down the Brenta River, which connects Padova and Venice.  There are 2000 villas built starting in the 1500’s which belonged to wealthy Venice merchants, who had their villas/palaces here in the country.  Some are now museums, some are closed and some are inhabited by wealthy people. I was quite surprised at how well I manage with my Italian! (more…)

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monkeysGallo Pinto? Pejibaye soup? No, I’m not really a “foodie”, but my recent trip to Costa Rica has me daydreaming about the superb native dishes made with the freshest ingredients.  In this gem of a country you can fish in the ocean and have your catch prepared to your liking that same evening at a dockside restaurant.  Yellowfin tuna sashimi alongside grilled mahi mahi.  Homemade tamales wrapped in banana leaves, tiny empanadas stuffed with local cheeses or meats; there’s always a new dish to savor. (more…)

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flowerOne thing I love about Maui is that you can choose to fill your time there with very diverse and exciting activities or you can choose to do nothing at all and still have a great time.  Having done quite a bit of sightseeing on the other islands, we had decided in advance that we would spend most of our time in Maui enjoying the beach and pools and we were looking forward to doing just that when we arrived midday at Kahului airport.  Arriving at this time of day is ideal because you usually won’t have to worry about traffic, which can be somewhat heavy around Lahaina in the morning and evening hours.  It only took us about 45 minutes in our rental car to get to the Ka’anapali resort area, where we were staying.  (more…)

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Grand Hyatt KauaiWe arrived in Lihu’e, Kauai in the early afternoon and quickly picked up our rental car.   We were excited to get to our resort, located on the south side of the island, which I knew would be one of the highlights of our trip.  From the second we arrived at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, we were never disappointed.  It is definitely one of the most beautiful resorts I have stayed in, from the amazing open air lobby with a postcard picture “window” towards the ocean, to the large and beautifully appointed rooms, to the amazing and extensive grounds full of colorful tropical flowers, waterfalls, palms, lagoons and waterfalls, to the spectacular pools, slide, hot tubs and more.  There was no question we were staying in paradise. (more…)

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