Tuesday, November 8, 2011

9.30.11 Great American Beer Festival - Denver CO

One of our bucket list items was to go to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). This festival brings together breweries from all over the country. We had two tickets to two sessions: Friday night and Saturday afternoon. The sessions are 4 hours of drinking… I mean sampling different beers from across the country.

We arrived in Denver in the morning and headed over to a local French restaurant for lunch. After getting our fill of carbs, we headed to our hotel where Oskar Blues had taken over the taps.

We have our first mile high beers. I headed up to the room to make our pretzel necklaces – a must for any beer tasting.

Our other friends were hesitant to wear the necklaces, but were singing its praises by the end of the first session. We headed out for four hours of drinking. I made it about two hours before I needed a pizza break. I just couldn’t keep up. The amount of beer was overwhelming. Some key highlights were the Oskar Blues Silent Disco where everyone in the roped off area wears headphones and the DJ spins some tunes.

The other unique offering was the 30th anniversary booth featuring the beers that were at the very first GABF. Some brewers even dug out the old recipes.

Saturday morning, we headed to Sam’s #3 for breakfast. Sam’s was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It was worth the hour wait. The pork green chile was fantastic!!!

 I was ready for Day Two – pretzel necklace in place. We hit the booths. This time we decided to brave the cheese line. The wait was 45 precious beer drinking minutes. Thankfully, we had a plan. I stood in line and Glenn went to the nearby booths and brought beer back to me. The cheese booth was very impressive once we got to the front. Plus they were pouring some of the beers that had the longest wait so it evened out. After the session, we headed across the street to sample more beer! We worked out way down the street to our dinner reservation at Rioja. Everyone had a great meal – except for me. I drew the short straw with a terrible pasta dish. The dish had no sauce – none – not even a little dribble of butter. It was a mess. After dinner, we headed to Wynkoop Brewing to try some of their brews, then to Hayters’ Club and then I was done. We hit up Jimmy John’s and headed back to the hotel.
Sunday, we headed to see a good friend from college for brunch and then headed out to Boulder for some more beer. We visited Avery Brewing and Twisted Pine. Avery was fantastic.

 We tried their tap room exclusives and Glenn loved the barrel aged sour. We were not a big fan of the beers at Twisted Pine so our visit there was short. We swung by another friend’s house and then hit the airport after a fantastic weekend in Denver.

For those interested, our favorite beers were:

Pizza Port Bacon and Eggs Stout

Duck Rabbit Milk Stout

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

Russian River Imperial Stout

Breckinridge Barrel Aged Vanilla Porter

21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat

Crabtree Chunkin Pumpkin

Airdale Dark and Stormy

Ska Fresh Hops

Mad River Chile Beer

Avery Out of sight house blend stout

Avery Eremita

Avery’s Ellie’s Brown Ale

Hollister Tiny Bubbles

Sunday, November 6, 2011

9.23.11 Weekend in New York City

In September, I had another work trip to New York City so we decided to make another weekend of it. This time, we flew together so no worries about Glenn missing half the fun. Friday, we both worked from our respective city offices and then headed out to Brooklyn for an amazing dinner with one of Glenn’s co-workers. We ate until we had to be rolled out of there!

Saturday morning, we headed to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. I was able to secure free tickets through Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day. I had never before toured an aircraft carrier. It was incredible.

One of the highlights was meeting one of the men who served on the aircraft carrier during World War II. He was a mechanic and told us stories about how they moved the aircraft around the plane. My favorite moment was when Glenn asked, “Does it look like it did when you lived on it?”. He was trying to figure out what types of renovations occur on these types of aircraft carriers. The veteran answered, “Well no, it’s a museum now.”

Just outside the museum, Yankee Fan Fest was going on. Glenn is a die-hard Red Sox fan, but I was happy to get some free ice cream, hummus, chips and pens. I even got to snag a self-heating thermal shirt Uniqlo before the store even opened. Yippee! From the pier, we headed over to Blue Smoke. An episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network featured their potato chips so we had to check them out. We ordered several appetizers. I had my first ever deviled egg. It was pretty darn good. My favorite was the shrimp corn dogs.

We still had a few hours until the Yankee Game so we headed to Brooklyn Brewery. I loved the vibe at Brooklyn Brewery. It felt like a neighborhood hang out.

Softball teams were enjoying pitchers and pizza. We sampled the Oktoberfest, Weisse, Companion and Blast. This weekend was the last weekend of the NYC Craft Beer Week so we stopped at Mugs on the way back to the Subway to sample the BluePoint White IPA and Harbor Brewing Black Duck Stout. The White IPA was really good. Then it was time to head to Yankee Stadium.

We got there early and walked around. We had great seats. Unfortunately, the Red Sox were not able to pull out a win, but we really enjoyed the afternoon at the ballpark.

Post game, we headed back to Chelsea to find a local bar for dinner and drinks. After a disastrous stop at Flying Puck (cranky bartender and mediocre beer), we consulted the Craft Beer app and ended up at Guilty Goose. The restaurant was only six months. We had a fantastic time sampling beers, chatting with the owner and eating their fantastic food.

We liked it so much we went back the next day for brunch.
Poached duck eggs over ham on a biscuit with jalapeno hollandaise
Goose confit goat cheese omelet

After brunch, we hit the submway to head to Governors’ Island Art Fair. 
Marachi on the Subway
It was a contemporary art show so we had our usual reactions of confusion and occasionally liking something.

We had a few hours before our flight so we headed to Mustang Sally’s to watch the Patriots game. I love that we have been to NYC enough times that we now just act like we live there – hitting local bars for football rather than feeling pressured to see more.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

2011 Labor Day Weekend: Indianapolis

Over Labor Day weekend, we headed to Indianapolis to snuggle our new niece, celebrate our cousin's first birthday,  and fit in some fun adventures. For lunch on Saturday we headed to Rib Fest to sample some award winning barbeque. My mom, dad, husband and I fanned out to sample different ribs from across the country. Glenn even found a gluten free option so my mom could join in the fun. We had a great job heading from booth to booth.

One of the highlights for me was the corn on the cob. There is nothing like Indiana corn on the cob. Yum!  The festival overall was very fun.  We were impressed that admission was free early in the day. The live music stage was rocking with local talent. As the day went on more named acts were on the line up. The downside was that it was very expensive.  As for the barbeque, we all had a different favorite booths and I was super excited to get an elephant ear!

Connor Prairie in Fischer, Indiana offers a Symphony on the Prairie musical program during the summer. My parents are regulars and we were excited to get to join them. The big act was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.  We arrived early and set up camp and our dinner buffet.My parents laid out an awesome spread. It was a beautiful night – just cold enough for pants and sweatshirts. Sunset was amazing and then the music started.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was fantastic! We had a terrific time and fireworks capped off the night. When we got home, I immediately started researching if Tampa has anything like this.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Tampa Staycation: Sailing, swimming, drinking and eating

This is part of our ongoing attempt in 2011 to explore Tampa Bay!

A few months ago, a groupon deal came through for Atlantis V charter – a full day sailboat trip. The girls and I jumped at the chance. It was a beautiful day. The four of us boarded the 45 foot sailboat and headed out to the islands just outside Tarpon Springs. Atlantis V charters offers half day or full day trips to help support their youth program. The program gives kids a chance to learn to sail for free. We felt really good about supporting a local charity and getting a day on the water. The icing on the cake was that we were able to follow a pod of dolphins for at least forty-five minutes.

The Refinery

The Refinery is a local restaurant that has been getting rave reviews. We headed there for brunch.  We were not disappointed. The meal was fantastic – bold flavors, local ingredients and a menu that changes weekly. Glenn had the biscuits and gravy and I had a great pulled pork eggs benedict.

We love beer. We finally made it over to the Cigar City Tap Room. Cigar City is an outstanding local brewery and the Tap Room is the place to be. They have revolving taps with between 6 -8 beers that you can take home in growlers and then an additional 10 – 16 beers you can try just in the Tap Room. After our first visit, we have ended up back there at least once a month to try a new beer or load up on growlers to take home for Football Sunday. It also has become the go-to spot when we have visitors in from out of town.

After a long work day a few months ago, I sat on the plane dreaming about heading out to the Caribbean or Mexico just to have a day relaxing on the beach. DUH!! I live 45 minutes from a beach!!! After a little internet research, we decided on Pass-A-Grille – the end of the line in Pinellas County. We headed out on a Saturday morning. We easily found parking and a spot on the beach. The waves were kicking so we had a great time bobbing in the ocean. After a few hours, we headed to a local restaurant for grouper sandwiches and margaritas. I was really impressed with the ample parking, the public beach and the nearby local park with bathroom and picnic tables. We definitely will be headed back!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

July 4th 2011 - Atlanta: Turner Field, Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum, and Woodfire Grill

The weekend of July 4th, we hopped in the car and headed toward Atlanta hoping to cross off another ball park, see a dear friend, and check out a Top Chef restaurant. Our first stop en route had to be the World’s Largest Peanut Monument. It was pretty exciting and large.

We decided our first stop in Atlanta would be the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. I had never been to a Presidential Library before so I was pretty excited. I checked Yelp! For a good place for lunch and we ended up at Highland Bakery. Our brunch was fantastic! I had the corn cakes and Glenn had an Egg BLT. Great way to start our day in Atlanta.

We headed over to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. I was really impressed. It was a great recap of Carter’s Presidency. The recreation of the Oval Office was fun.

The Iran hostage crisis was handled even-handedly – the exhibit addressed the controversy that Carter recreated by not taking more aggressive by focusing on Carter’s focus on diplomacy. The exhibit detailing the Israli and Egypt peace talks gave a behind the scenes look at the process and how Carter was able to secure the peace. The most interesting part of Carter’s legacy was his work with the Carter Center securing free and fair elections across the globe. Many years ago , I applied for an internship at the Carter Center because I was so impressed with his work. I didn’t have the international chops to make the cut, but I have been very interested in the work every since.
Next stop was
the Martin Luther King Jr. National Monument. Sitting in the pews of Ebenezer Baptist Church where King gave his famous sermons was very moving. The Historic Center detailing King’s life is a great mix of press coverage, archived speeches and his writings.

After the King Center, we set out in search of a local brewery. We wove our way to Sweetwater Brewing – a difficult place to find – only to be turned away 45 minutes after it opened because the maximum capacity had already been reached. Second choice was Red Brick Brewing– another hidden gem.  Pulling up, it looked like a fun block party. We went in, but were disappointed when almost all the beers were already tapped out. I did have a couple pints of Laughing Skull – a slightly hoppy Brown Ale.

We headed to the hotel and then prepared for dinner at Woodfire Grill – the restaurant of Top Chef contestant Kevin Gillespie. He was having a special BBQ dinner for the Holiday. The highlight of the evening for me was the Farmers’ Daughter Cocktail – a refreshing mix of cucumber, ginger, mint and vodka.  

The meal started with a spring veggie salad,  then a great BBQ plate, and finished with a berry cobbler.

After dinner, we headed over to Top Chef contestant Richard Blais’s Flip Burger for their famous milkshakes. I tried the S’more nutella and Glenn tried the peanut butter Capt’n Crunch.

Both were very good milkshakes – lots of intense flavors. The evening ended as we searched for a local bar with local beers on tap – and failed. We ended up at the chain restaurant across from our hotel.
Day 2 – We set out to see Centennial Park. But it was CLOSED!

We were totally befuddled. I understand they were setting up for an event on the 4th – but to close the whole park on the 3rdjust seemed crazy.  After the trouble finding local beer the day before and this, we were starting to think Atlanta was mad at us. We walked over to the plaza between the Aquarium and Coca-Cola World  to check out the dolphins and the gift shop.

We drove through downtown to get to Turner Field for the Braves game. Turner Field is fantastic. One of our favorite parks so far. We got all-u-can-eat seats – a terrific private section on the club level that only had 20 people the day we went. Great views of the field and great ball park food.

After the game, we headed to a dear friend’s house so I could meet her daughter. Her husband is a chef so we filled up on good eats and then headed back to the hotel.

Monday we headed back toward Tampa. On the way we stopped at Ichetucknee Springs to go tubing. Ichetucknee is a cool water spring that feeds a local river. We rented tubes and took the lazy route down the river. It was a perfect day – hot enough that the cold water felt refreshing.

t was a great stop to break up the drive home. We ended our culinary aventure at the good old Steak-N-Shake.

Overall, we had a great weekend loved Turner Field. However, I don’t think we will be headed back to Atlanta any time soon. The city was hard to navigate and required a level of pre-planning that we usually do not like to do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Chopped Judges Food Tour: June 2011 New York City

To capitalize on a work trip that took me to New York in June,  Glenn arranged to fly up and meet me Friday night. The goal was to eat our way through the Chopped judges’ establishments and check out a Mets game. Since Glenn’s flight wasn’t due to arrive until late, I headed over to TKTS in Times Square after to work in investigate what Broadway shows were on sale. After consulting many pamphlets, I decided on Memphis. It had won numerous Tony awards and centered on the early introduction of Blues in the South. I was sold. After getting the 40% ticket, I headed across the street to the sushi bar at the W hotel. I have been to Times Square a few times and always wanted to stop in for a cocktail so I did.  I grabbed a table at the window and ordered a smokey bourbon cocktail. The people watching was fantastic – the cocktail was not. I decided to wander over to the theater to find a place to eat nearby. I ended up at Sardini’s – an old school pre-theater restaurant with an old school menu. I grabbed my leather booth under the cartoon portrait of celebrities from another day.

I ordered the pre fixe menu entirely on the recommendation of the waitress. She was tickled that I just ordered everything she said and I had a good meal.  After dinner, I had about an hour and a half to dinner, I didn’t feel like going to another bar so I ended up just hanging out outside the theater monitoring Glenn’s flight situation. Yep, his flight was delayed, delayed and then ultimately cancelled.  A HUGE BUMMER! He booked himself on a flight Saturday morning and headed home.  I headed into Memphis.

Memphis was spectacular! The music and story line were terrific. I really really enjoyed myself. I decided to walk back to our hotel – the Hotel indigo in Chelsea and enjoyed the nice New York night. The hotel was very nice – a great location equidistant between several subway lines. The front desk was very helpful in getting me toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, etc.  since Glenn had all our luggage.
The next morning, I headed out to Prune – Gabrielle Hamilton was recently named the Best Chef inNew York City by the James Beard Foundation  and I wanted to try out her brunch. I left pretty early and walked. I ended up in a street market. I bought a great scone and slice of Irish Soda Bread to keep the food emergency at bay. I hit Prune at the perfect time – early enough to secure a spot when they first opened, but late enough that I wasn’t waiting very long. I sat at the bar and ordered the spicy chick peas and eggs.
 The egg was amazing – it was a perfectly poached egg that had somehow been breaded. The chickpeas were spicy, but the dish could have used a little more crunch – after the crostini was gone, the texture was a little monotonous.
After breakfast, I decided to hop on the subway up to the Met to check out the Alexander McQueen exhibit. I have to admit the only reason I knew about it was because Neil Patrick Harris had tweeted about it the week before.

I am so glad I went. The exhibit was unbelievable. It perfectly captured McQueen as a designer and honored the art in his clothes. I spent another hour wandering the Impressionist artists and wondering about the modern art. Really? An entire canvas in black is art? I was more than a little lost. I decided to grab a snack in the museum’s café.

 A glass of Prosecco and some spring vegetable bruschetta  - both were very good. After the Met, I headed outside to walk up to the Guggenheim. I just had to stop at the ice cream food truck that was squarely in my path.

 I had the best salted caramel shake. The Guggenheim was in the process of opening a new exhibition so most of the galleries were closed. I was overwhelmed in the Dollar room – a giant room wall papered in dollar bills.

After the Guggenheim, I headed back to the hotel to meet Glenn. I decided to take the bus. My first bus ride in New York. It was great. I loved watching all the people as we inched our way down fifth avenue. Glenn finally arrived and we got ready to head out to our 5:30 pm reservation at Butter – Alex Guidecelli’s restaurant.  We were a little early for the reservation so we headed around the corner to a local pub. It has a great beer selection. We had a couple beers and then went to Butter. Because we were sure we were not going to get the tasting menu with wine – we ordered a couple cocktails and perused the menu. The décor at Butter is very cool It simulates a wood cabin with a huge wall of birch trees at one end backlit.

The waiter came and …. We ordered the tasting menu with wine. The next 2 hours was an orgy of food and wine. All of it was very well prepared and tasted very good, but it didn’t knock our socks off. In fact, when I asked Glenn later if he would recommend Butter , he said no even though we both struggled to find a fault in our meal. After Butter, we hit the Subway and headed up to CitiField.

 Nothing like showing up in the 6th inning in the family section after drinking our way through the East Village. I may have sat down, groaned, and immediately put on my sunglasses lamenting that the lights at Citifield were “too bright”. We stumbled back to our hotel and called it a night.
Sunday we headed out to our 1030 reservation at The National – Jeffrey Zakarian joint. I had the dish of the day with the pork belly benedict.

 It was fantastic. One of the best brunch dishes I have ever had. After brunch, we wandered around the street market until we found the perfect onesie for our niece. We headed up to Central Park to enjoy the beautiful weather. We sat on the rocks and then headed to the softball fields. We had a great time watching men who we could only assume had been playing ball together for 40 years talk trash and occasionally hit a softball. Next Stop was Rosie O’Grady’s for some snacks and a couple beers. Then we set out to find Heartland Brewery which earned a prize – the worst beer we have ever tasted. Not a single one was very good.

After Heartland, we walked down to Chelsea - the site of our 530 pm dinner reservation at Scarpetta – a Scott Conant restaurant. We grabbed a table, listened to some folks play the communal piano and monitored the line at the massive Apple store. Then it was time for our reservation. The inside was very nice – the back area was bright and comfortable.

Glenn ordered the spaghetti and the sea bass. I ordered the short ribs and a special carbonara with truffle foam and spring vegetables. I won the ordering contest for sure. Both my dishes were fantastic.

 The pasta was incredible – the mix of flavors was so good. Glenn was underwhelmed by the spaghetti and found the fish to be good, but again missing the wow factor. We paid our check and headed to the airport in time to catch our Jetblue flight home.  Overall a great weekend in New York City – stay posted as we head back later this month to check out Yankee Stadium.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Taste of Turkey: March 17 - March 30

On March 17, we took the earliest flight out of Tampa into JFK. We claimed our bag , took it to baggage storage and headed into NYC via the subway. It took about 2 hours from our gate to the restaurant. We were early for our reservation so we explored Chelsea Market and snacked on a grilled cheese and pickle sandwich. Around noon, we headed to Colicchio and Sons.

We were happy that C&S was offering a priz fize 3 course lunch for $25. I ordered the bone marrow with truffle vinaigrette and drunken onions, a pizza with Italian meats and a coffee nip ice cream parfait. Glenn got the crispy pork belly, the TC burger and I strongly encouraged him to get the apple tatin. Glenn also had a beer flight and I tried the Double White Ale. It was a fantastic meal! The pork belly had a weird layer of inedible fat, but everything else was very good. After lunch, we hailed a back and headed back to the airport.

We checked in and headed ot the gate. At the gate, we Bonnie and Jack- also on our tour. The only snag in the flight was a 2 hour delay on the phone. Overall, we both enjoyed Turkish Airlines: good food, individual TVs and pretty good sized seats (for Economy). We faced a long line at passport control. The guide didn’t have our names, but we made it work. Because our rooms would be ready until 3 pm, the guide offered a Bosphorous cruise. Even though the weather was overcast, we thought it would be a great way to spend the time. The fresh air was great and it was a fantastic orientation to Istanbul. The sultan palaces we passed were incredible as were the very posh vacation homes. At one point, you would have thought we were in Malibu! Some of the home were $50 million US.

After the cruise, we checked into Akgun Istanbul. The hotel was very nice. The rooms were large with a sitting area and a great view. The bathroom was updated and a had a shower with a window into the room. The best part was the bathroom window had blinds! After checking in, we had a briefing meeting. It was very informative, but a little brutal having an hour and a half meeting after travelling all day. We had dinner at the hotel buffet – the highlights were the lentils and eggplant and called it an early night.

Day Two – March 19th

We enjoyed the morning hotel buffet and headed out on a group tour. Our first stop was the city walls. Then we headed to the Old Town. We saw the remains of the HippoDome from 3 AD. The only pieces remaining were an Egyptian obelisk, a serpentine tower and a limestone obelisk. The Egyptian obelisk was made of granite, placed on bronze “legs” and placed on a marble slab.

 The obelisk demonstrated the reach of the Empire. It took 10,000 men and 30 days to transport it. The marble base depicts life at the time – chariot races, prizes of a wreath and money, and the kings. The serpentine statute was originally 3 that came together to a golden ball. The Turks also built a limestone obelisk. The limestone obelisk was built taller than the Egyptian obelisk to show that the Turkish were superior. The HippoDome was dismantled and used for building materials throughout the city.

Next we went to the Blue Mosque- called this because of the decorative blue tiles inside. The Blue Mosque is unique because it six of the towers used to call people to prayers.

 The story behind this is that the sultan wanted a gold tower, but that would be too expensive and impossible to build so the engineer pretended to mishear the sultan and built six towers instead as gold as the word for gold and the word for six are only one letter apart. The Blue Mosque is still used for prayers. The iman and the assistant imans are employees of the government. There is a large staircase in the front.

 The top is kept for Mohammed and the iman goes ½ way up to recite the prayers. There is also a wooden stand where the iman gives a sermon on Fridays. There are no depictions of human or animals to minimize distraction. For the same reason, women have to be fully covered – hair, shoulders, long skirts and sit behind the men.

After the Blue Mosque, we crossed the street to Hagia Sofia. It is the third largest cathedral in the world. The current building is the third on the site.

 The first was destroyed by fire and the second by an invading army. The cathedral is known for its symmetry – even the marble with varied patterns was carefully cut and placed so it looked exactly the same from one side to the other. It is also well known for the mosaics. The mosaics are incredible. Only a few remain because the Cathedral was converted to a mosque and allthe mosaics were plastered over. The plaster helped to preserve some of the mosaics and destroyed some of the others. The clerics also moved the altar slightly South since Christians pray to the East and Muslims pray to the South East. Muslims added the low hanging oil lamps whereas the Christians used torches.

After Aya Sofia, we split from the group and headed to Sedf Medshur Donererci for a doner (gyro meat) sandwich and Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta for its famous koftke (meatballs). These restaurants were great! The menus had limited items. The bean, lettuce and carrot salad was perfectly acidic and a great complement to the meat.

Full from our snacking tour, we headed to Topkapi Palace. We had heard the Harem was one of the most interesting areas to tour so we headed there first. These were the first private quarters of the sultan, his mother and his wives. The young princes also stayed here under very strict guard. The wives lived in apartments in a rwo joined by a shared courtyard. Between the sultan and the wives was the sultan’s mother’s bedroom. The young princes had their own rooms. The concubines were female slaves. Some of the concubines would be selected by the sultan’s wives and mother as favorites. These favorites lived in a special two story apartment building and the sultan was allowed to “get to know” them. They say that all this procreation was important because it assured a consistent government by ensuring there was a heir. After visiting the harem, we went to the Hall of Holy Relics to visit the staff of Moses, Joseph’s turban, John’s arm, the footprint of Mohammed and several shrouds worn by the prophets. We had to skip the treasure rooms because of time, but we heard they were filled with amazing jewels.

We headed down the hill to our cooking class at Cooking Alaturka. It cost about TL240 and it was fantastic! We spent almost three hours prepping and cooking and then sat down for the five course meal we had prepared. We made red lentil and bulgar soup, egglplant with onions, tomatoes and braised in olive oil, zucchini pancakes, domas stuffed with lamb, beef, rice and spices, and dried figes stuffed with walnuts cooked in simple syrup. It was terrific. The proprietor, Evaneline, has lived a fascinating life – she graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, operated hotels and now runs the cooking school. The chef Feyze was a lot of fun – making jokes the whole way through. The best was that on the taxi ride home, the driver stopped to pick up a drink. Then, at a stoplight, he jumped out of the car, opened the trunk, and pulled out 3 snack cakes. Definitely the first time a taxi driver has provided a snack.

Day 3 March 20, 2011

This morning we headed out on a six hour bus ride to Ankara. We passed from lush agriculture to arid mountainous landscapes. We did not have a proper lunch – just picked up food at the gas station so Glenn and I decided to do a potato chip tasting. The yogurt/herb was the clear winner over the cheese and the onion and paprika. Our first stop was the Mausoleum of Anaturk – the founder of the Turkish Republic. The most impressive parts were the beautiful gold ceiling in the Mausoleum, the reliefs down in the museum, and the gorgeous marble and granite public bathrooms. (They were really nice bathrooms.)

Next stop was the Antoyian Museum of Civilization. This collection of artifacts is amazing. The most impressive things to us were the written tablets from 4,000 BC, the ancient reliefs that depicted everyday life in the same way the modern relief in the Anaturk museum did, and the overall volume of artifacts. After the museum, we darted through the rain drops and ended up at the Radisson Blu hotel. The Radisson Blu was a very nice hotel with an outrageously expensive bar and smaller rooms. Since the bar was so expensive, we headed out to find somewhere else to grab a beer. We followed the bright neon lights of the Effes beer sign and got a table with a nice view of the street. Joe and Rosemary from our trip had the same idea and joined us. We had a great chat and a couple of dinners. We headed back to the hotel for buffet dinner with a fantastic spread of meze.

Day 4 March 21, 2011

Off to the bus again this morning. Today’s ride was very bumpy and unsettling – at least for the stomach. Glenn and I had a snack cake tasting at the gas station this time. We passed some beautiful landscapes with great view of the agricultural villages. Some of the villages looked to be built from rock. Others were clearly new construction and built around a mosque. It is interesting to think that 94% of the population is Muslim and entire villages all worship together. I am sure there are variations but it is not split up the way Christian denominations are in the States.

Our first stop was the Salt Lake – a natural lake with no water flowing into or out of it. Most of Turkey’s salt is mined here. You also have to pay to use the bathrooms. In some cases it is worth it – granite and marble. In other cases, it is a hole in the ground. After our brief visit to the Salt Lake, the landscape gave way to amazing rock formations- again with houses built right into the rock.

Our tour guide surprised us by taking us to a delightful tour group restaurant that had great prix fixe restaurant instead of a buffet or gas station meal! We had delicious soup and salad, pastrami in a puff pastry and baked in a foil with tomato and lemon, and sautéed beef over some fantastic smokey eggplant – all for TL 15! We also shared a bottle of local white wine. Overall, it was a fantastic meal. Then, we headed to visit and underground city. Our guide recommended we bypass the most popular one because it is very claustrophobic and hard to maneuver so we went to a smaller one – Ozkonak. It was amazing. These structures were built in the 6th and 7th centuries when the Persian and Arabic armies were invading Turkey to kill all the Christians. The Christians built these underground cities with stables, food storage, sleeping quarters, and even a winery. Tight tunnels lead from one room to another. Air shafts disguised as wells provided fresh air. Large millstones were strategically placed to block access to the tunnels if an enemy did find an air shaft.

After the underground city, we headed to our required tourist shop stop – the pottery making workshop. The artisans have an apprentice system and the trade has been passed down for seven generations. The owner pegged Glenn and I as big spenders – we severely disappointed. They had some beautiful ancient wine holders. People bought their pottery and we used a little extra time to see of the famous local rock formations – the camel and the dancing people. It was so great hiking around all the rocks.

Then it was time for the Whirling Dervishes. We had heard so much about them. This “performance” was very special because it was an actual religious ceremony with chanting, prayers, a reading from the Quran. The spinning is a form of meditation. The whirling is practiced by a brotherhood called Mevlevi – a mystical form of Islam. The whirling ceremony represents a union with God. The Mevlevi order was outlawed by Anaturk in 1920s, but in the 1950s the government saw the tourist potential. The brotherhood is still technically outlawed so the only legal way to hold a whirling ceremony is to have an audience of tourists watch their skirts fly up.

Petri Tower was our accommodations for the next two nights. Outside it is fashioned to look like the houses in the rocks. Inside – our room was a college dorm room with two tiny two beds and not enough room to open our suitcases. Dinner was a good buffet and beers were cheap so we really couldn’t complain.

Day 5 March 22, 2011

We started the next day visiting the Uchisar Castle – a giant rock formation filled with rock carved homes. We hiked along the rim of the valley to take in all the views. It was amazing – both the formations and the idea people lived in them. Hiking around, we saw a set of stairs so we went down them. IT WAS SOMEONE’S HOUSE! The woman waved us to keep coming down the stairs, but we high tailed it out of there. After the valley, we headed to Goreme Open Air Museum. This was home to the Christian community in the 12th and 13th centuries. They built their homes in the rock with many interconnecting tunnels to be able to hide from invading Persian armies. It was an incredible site. The artwork in the churches was incredible. It was done by monks, nuns and students so many of the proportions were way off. On the way down the hill to the bus, we stopped by the Tokali church from the 10th century. The most impressive feature was the ceiling which chronologically depicted the stories of Jesus’ life. After the churches, we headed to a very long, drawn out visit to the Turkish carpet weaving factory. The one we visited was a government sponsored cooperative. The interesting part of the demonstration was when they showed how they pull silk out of the cocoons. Then the salesman did a highly orchestrated demonstration where he and 3 assistants would dramatically roll out the carpets until the showroom floor was several carpets deep. We would rather have spent our time at the Flintstone’s Cave Bar, but we did get some pita and a glass of wine. After several of our tour mates succumbed to the sales pitch, we headed to the Fairy Chimneys. The Fairy Chimneys were formed when a volcano erupted, spewing lava and heavy rocks. The rocks would push down through the soft soil and come to rest. Then the water flowed through leaving large heavy rocks balanced on the top of the softer stone. After a few pictures, we headed to the Zelve Open Air Museum. This was another Christina community. However, people lived in these dwellings until the government forced them out in the 1950s. We toured more of the landscape and saw the Three Graces – a collection of three fairy chimneys. The last stop was Pigeon Valley – another collection of rock homes famous for raising pigeons and using the droppings for fertilizer. After all that fun outdoors, we headed to the bar to try some more Raki – the Turkish version of Sambucca. We chatted with our tour mates and may have drank one of two Effes beers.

Day 6 March 23, 2011

On the road again. Another early morning to get on the bus. I was not feeling too great so I skipped the not-so-great breakfast to keep packing. On the road to Antayla, we stopped at a Sultaniani caravan hotel. Basically, these structures were located every 28 miles, the length a camel could walk in one day. It provided protection and a place to trade goods. If a caravan was attacked, it would send a pigeon with a message for help. Inside were large rooms used for stores and restaurants. To the left, they would build wooden platforms to trade underneath and sleep on top. In the middle was a mosque. In the winter months, everything would move indoors.

Back on the bus, we headed to Mevlana Muzeki – a museum dedicated to the founder of the Mevlevi sect of Islam. They preserved what basically was their monastery. Then we started our long journey over the mountains to the Mediterranean coast. The fields became snowy mountains. The sun was finally shining and the weather was warmer than 40! Our hotel was the Crowne Plaza – Antalya. It is fantastic! We had a great room with a king size bed, a balcony and a great view of the Mediterranean Sea. We walked down the coast to find a place for dinner. We ended up at a very nice restaurant. Our waiter was great. He took us back to the kitchen to see all the options. We pointed out our appetizers and our fish. He also recommended a fantastic white wine – Selection. For appetizers we had sea bass marinated in a mint/basil pesto, artichokes, mussels stuffed with rice and a special salad. For dinner, we had filets of a local white fish simply prepared. The waiter brought an incredible fruit plate on the house. He asked what we liked for dessert and we told him to choose. The plate he brought was beautiful and surprising. One of the sweet treats was small eggplants that had somehow been infused with a clove simple syrup. Another was a hard green nut that had been soften in a similar manner. The middle was shredded pumpkin that had also been infused with simple syrup. The small cake under the ice cream was a roll up with spices. It was an incredible meal.

Day 7 March 24, 2011

Today was free day! THANK HEAVENS!! I needed a break from the bus! Most of our tour mates took the optional tour and headed over to Greek ruins and waterfalls. We headed to the Turkish Bath. We took the public bus into Old Town. It took us about 45 minutes to navigate the winding alleys but we finally found the bath. According to our guidebook, it was over 700 years ol. The cost of the complete treatment was 40TL. The bath was segregated men and women. I went into the women’s side. A woman met me and told me to strip down and put on a plaid patterned piece of fabric around me. We walked into the bath. It was all marble. I had to duck down through the low doorways. We walked into a room with five sinks set into a low marble bench that surrounded the room. She down me to drop the cloth and sit down on the bench and used a silver bowl to pour warm water over me. She told me to continue splashing the water all over myself and she left to change into her bathing suit and prepare everything. After about 10 minutes of splashing, she led me to a large marble table in the middle of another room. I laid down near the edge of the table. She grabbed a bath mitt and started the “peeling” – a major exfoliation. She rubbed the mitt over and over until the dead skin cells peeled off. Then she would go over to the sink and then throw a bucket of water on me. After the peeling, I sat by the sink and rinsed off. Then I headed back to the table for the soap massage. She somehow created lots and lots of soap suds and then used a towel to place them on me. Then she soaped me up and rinsed me off. She took me over to the sink to wash my hair. She squeegeed the marble slab and dried it off. I headed back to the table for the oil massage. After she finished the oil massage, she covered me with a towel, rinsed off the facial mask and gave me a facial massage. Then we were finished. I changed and had some apple tea. It was incredibly relaxing, but I am so grateful I was the only person in the bath and she was a woman. I am do not think I would have done it any other way.

Fresh and clean, we explored Old Town. We found a little café for a beer and pide – Turkish flat bread pizza. Glenn found a listing for a bar with a great view of the harbor in our guidebook so we headed there next: Kale bar. We had a couple of beers and a snack platter of chicken tenders, French fries and spring rolls. The best thing was the restaurant was built into the old city walls so we walked through the archers’ towers to get to the bathrooms and the view was incredible. We headed from here to the Anatalya museum via the city tram. The museum was great! The volume of artifacts that had been recovered from the nearby Greek ruins was so impressive. The tombs were so detailed and amazing. After the museum, we walked through the park to find 7 Mehmet restaurant. It was highly recommended and did not disappoint. We had the same Selection wine, the special salad, the domas in grape leaves, and an eggplant/yogurt dish. The main dish was amazing – veal pounded very thin and grilled over a rice with bits of liver, roasted nuts and currants. It was terrific. Glenn also had the tripe soup. I thought it tasted like feet. We took a taxi back to the hotel. We decided to check out the spa/indoor pool. It was so impressive. The hotel had great showers, 2 saunas, steam room, a Turkish bath, cold room and hot chaises. We really enjoyed it. We joined the four tour ladies for tea and dessert and great to hear great stories of their time in Ireland.

Day 8 March 25, 2011

This morning we set off back through the mountains to Pamukke. After another lunch at a gas stations – lentil soup, eggplant, cookies and hot chili Doritos. We arrived at Pamukke. It is incredible. The water missed with the soil to create calcium carbonate so the entire hillside is white. Because the material is soft, the water from a hot spring created pools. After we took off our shoes, we could walk out on the pools. The water was warm – about 98 degrees. Also at the site were the remains of the ancient Roman city Hierodopolis. It was an impressive landscape. We could really see how the city was laid out. The ancient pool would have been the center. The colonnade (shopping area) was between two gates. One either side was the shops. Outside the shops were a line of statutes. We hiked up to the theater. It was incredible. We could really see how the city was laid out. Up on the hill was the Martyrium of St Phillip where it is believed Phillip was killed by the Romans. Up on the hill you could easily see why the Romans picked this location.

After the tour, we checked in the Richmond Hotel. It pumps in some water from the hot spring so we spent some time soaking in the hot mineral bath. It was very shallow and appeared to be filled with rust. After our soak, we opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed the view out of our room. After dinner, we all gathered in the bar. After everyone left, the belly dancer came out and Glenn got a lesson.

Day 9 March 26, 2011

This morning started out with a great joke on the bus driver. We all sat in the back of the bus so it appeared to be empty when he got on. His reaction was priceless. Our first stop was Laodicea. It was originally built in the 2nd century BC as a Hellenic community then the Romans came. It was a very rich community. An earthquake destroyed most of it but because of the considerable wealth from the textile trade due to the black sheep that grazed nearby. Because of their wealth, they were able to rebuild without any financial assistance and even had two theaters. While we were there, considerable excavation work was going on and our guide predicted that it would rival Eupheus when the work was complete.

Our next site was Aphrodisias. Artifacts on this site dated back to 5000 BC, but the city hit its prime as the capitol of the Roman Province Laria around 2nd century AD. The city was constructed with marble as the primary material because of the nearby quarry. This site was one of our favorites because it was so vast and you could really see how the city would have operated. At one point , we came upon what we thought was going to be a theater, but it turned out to be a massive stadium. It was just breath-taking - more impressive because an earthquake in 17 AD wiped out most of the other sites. The other great part was the Bishop’s Palace that included the Council’s chambers made entirely of marble. The lion paws lining the aisles were a sign of strength and give the impression that Turkey was a climate more arid and appropriate for lions. The site also had a giant theater. The reliefs that surrounded all the buildings were housed in the museum and once again the volume were really impressive. Since the major temple was to Aprhodite – the statute of Aphrodite was also featured.

For lunch, we went to Ibo’s favorite Anatolya restaurant. It was a funky little place with good food and a courtyard in the bathroom. A nice change of pace from having to pay to go to a crappy bathroom. After lunch, we headed out to another gorgeous seaside resort – Fantasia de luxe. It was just incredible. We got there just in time for sunset.

Day 10 March 27, 2011

Today was the big visit to Epheses – site of the Ephesians, as in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The city was divided into an upper city and a lower city. The slaves could not cross into the upper city. The upper city had its own theater and temples. The road down into the lower city was quite an impressive sight. The upper class built homes into the hillside. The big draw in Epheses is the two level façade for the library. Also impressive is an arch held together without any mortar. The funniest part of the tour was the latrine. It was ingenious. Clean water ran through constantly with a separate pipe to take away sewage. It even had seats! There was an open courtyard in the middle to help with the air circulation. The theater was just massive. We even saw the stone foundation where they believed Paul was imprisoned on one of his visits.

Next stop was what is believed to be the House of the Virgin Mary. It has been rebuilt on top of the original red foundation into a small chapel with what would have been her original bedroom recreated. I hit a candle for Teresita and her family. People lined up for holy water and tied wishes to a fence. After such a holy site, it felt a little weird to stop at the leather outlet. They had a fashion show so that made it fun. The leather was gorgeous, but more than we wanted to spend. We headed back to the hotel and took a walk down a very trashy sea wall until we could dip our toes in the Aegon Sea. Then we enjoyed some time at the indoor pool before dinner while the rest of the group went to a co-ed Turkish Bath. It was a disaster! We were so glad that we had a great private experience.

Day 11 March 28, 2011

More ruins and gift shops! In an Amazing Race –like twist, we had to take taxis up to Pergamon. These ruins were special because they had the steepest theater that was built directly onto the hillside with no structure behind. There were also remnants from a temple for Athena and Dionysus. The coolest part was an indoor shopping mall built into the hillside under the temple. The cherry blossoms were in bloom. We headed back into the taxis – our guide had to ride in the back of one! Our next visit was Asklepion – an ancient hospital that focused on positive thinking. Because of the emphasis on the positive – patients had to walk a long colonnade to ensure they were not near death because it would not work if the patients saw people dying. There’s an old story that one man made it down the colonnade but they determined he was too sick to enter. He turned and saw two snakes vomiting into an urn. He tried to commit suicide by drinking it, but instead of dying, he felt much better. They say this was the advent of using little bits of poison to cure patients. At the site, there was also healing waters, baths, a theater and an underground sleeping quarters. The doctors would whisper positive mantras through the ventilation holes at night.

After a long drive, we ended up in Troy. As far as ruins go, these are the least attractive because a German entrepreneur was obsessed with finding Prium’s treasure. He attacked the site with bull dozers. Realizing the damage he was doing, he hired local people to start excavating properly . Turns out there were nine Trojan settlements. After the German found the treasure, he smuggled it out of Turkey to the Berlim museum. After the Russians took Berlin, it mysteriously disappeared. The Turkish government has been trying to get it back. The best part of the visit to Troy was sitting in the theater listening to our tour guide tell the story of the Iliad and point to where the battles occurred. Our hotel for this night was the Kolin hotel. We won the room lottery and ended up with a suite. We watched the sunset over an Effes Dark then hit the Jacuzzi, steam bath and Turkish bath.

Day 12 March 29, 2011

We got up and left for a ferry ride across the Dardenelle straits. After hitting land, we headed to the site of the Battle of Gallopoli. It was a very bloody battle between Turkish troops and the Australian/New Zealand forces in 1915. Under the leadership of Ataturk, the soldiers held the hill due to Ataturk’s strategy. The part that impressed me was that when Ataturk took power, he invited the families of the fallen soldiers from AUS/NZ to Turkey. He created a monument and graveyard for them. There was a Turkish memorial as well as some of the original trenches. There is also a statute commemorating a Turkish solider who upon seeing a wounded AUS solider, held up that white flag, crossed the battlefield and carried the wounded solider to the AUS side and then resumed fighting. We endured another long bus ride, lunch at a gas station and arrived at Istanbul. Our guide added a stop at the Spice Market. It was incredible – the volume and variety of spices. We hiked up the Hill to the Grand Bazaar. The streets were crowded with Muslim women shopping for lace, fabric, underwear, shirts, etc. A man walked through the crowd with tea on a tray for whoever needed one. We got to the Grand Bazaar and it was beautiful. It has definitely turned into a tourist location but with some high end jewelry and carpet stores. We got the last of our souvenirs and headed back to our hotel – the Akgun Istanbul. We got a moldy room this time. We repacked then headed out to Takism Square. Since we hadn’t bought tickets to the folk dancing show, our guide had arranged a minivan to take us to this New District area. We crossed the bridge to the Asian side. It was great – almost exclusively local Turkish people. We found a tourist restaurant for one last Turkish meal on the second floor overlooking the traffic. We had a great dinner and headed out into the street. Unfortunately, it started raining. We ducked into the nearest Pub. It was tiny – about fifteen seats filled with men watching the soccer game. We had a great time. On the way back to meet the van, we hit up a little bakery for dessert and then met back up with the van and headed back to the hotel.

Day 13 March 30, 2011

The day of twenty four hour travel begins. I had a rough start to the day, but 10 hours in the plane watching movies and drinking wine went just fine. We got our bag, headed to storage and then hit the subway to Manhattan. My brain was not working so it took a bit to figure out the map. The Stanton Social Club was fantastic. The interior was cozy. We got a circular booth in the back. We ordered two East Coast/West Coast oysters. Glenn loved the one from the West Coast. The French onion soup dumplings were incredible. They somehow created a perfect bite of French onion soup on a stick. We had pulled chicken arepas with guacamole and jalapeno. The sliders were fantastic – grilled cheese with jalapeno and a kobe philly with truffle goat cheese fondue was unbelievable. The short rib tacos were also very good. We sampled a few of their cocktails. The gin/cranberry/lemon was an unexpected mix as was the grapefruit/mint. For dessert, we had the mascarpone twinkie. After the bold flavors of the meal, it was a little bland. The Guinness chocolate cake with Bailey’s ice cream and toffee sauce was incredible. The waiter was nice enough to bring us a sample of their donuts. They were well made, but I am just not a fan. Dinner worked so well and was a perfect end to the trip!