28 April 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Gali Bordeaux Blend

Ok so we're back to red. In my defense I drank this one a little while ago before starting this push into whites.

The Gali is the most expensive wine I've bought so far running around 50TL/bottle. Was it worth it...eh. It wasn't bad! Quite the contrary. With an intense, dark plum color, light tanins, a soft feel, and a smooth flavor the Gali Bordeaux was quite drinkable. But compared to some of the cheaper red wines I've had hear, most especially Terra's Bogazkere and Kalecik Karasi, I'm just not sure it's worth shelling out almost twice the amount for the Gali.

Price is not always an indicator of a good wine in the states or Western Europe. One of my favorite wines when I lived in DC was an $8 bottle of Zinfandel.* However here the opposite is usually true in that the higher priced the wine is, the better the quality, as with the 100TL bottle of Prodon I plan to splurge on for my birthday. The Gali though...good but no, not worth the 50TL.

*Just to give you an idea of mark up here in Turkey. Between the old alcohol taxes, import taxes, and the new alcohol taxes imposed last year, a bottle of Ravens Wood Old Vine Zinfandel, which runs between $12-15 at Trader Joe's, costs 95TL (about $42) here. That's a difference of roughly $30 dollars making it nearly three times the cost.

22 April 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Ancyra Muscat

In an effort to start drinking more white wines to match the warming weather I picked up a bottle of Ancyra Muscat at Carrefour. And fell in love!

Muscat grapes are of course more widely known for being made into dessert wines but you can find the occasional "dry" Muscat. Although semi-sweet is really far more accurate a descriptor.

With a pale straw color with a delicate, floral nose, a muscat's flavor profile includes: orange blossoms, honey, honeysuckle, basil, roses, mint, bergamont, lemon balm, daisies, grapefruit, and melon. Daises, that's a new one.

To me this is a really interesting flavor profile and I would have liked to been able to pick out the basil. However what I did get (the orange blossom, honey, and honeysuckle mostly) makes this one of those wines that's going to be dangerous for me to keep around (and naturally I'm already 2/3 way through a second bottle already) because it is infinitely drinkable. The orange blossoms in particular really jumped out at me and reminds me that the next time someone is visiting from Lebanon, I really need to ask for a bottle of orange blossom water...

Like many semi and sweet wines, this goes pretty well with spicy foods and, you know, it's pretty darn good on its own. I see myself sipping a rather lot of this on my terrace this summer!

17 April 2014

Venice by Foot

My last post on Venice. It's taken a while to get this one up, partially because I'm lazy and partially because I don't want to leave the city behind!

Because we chose to mostly walk rather than take vaporetti around the city we were able to enjoy getting "lost" in the narrow streets of Venice. And while you may get knocked off course a time or two, there really is no way to get truly lost here. Just when you think you are you'll happen upon either signs pointing towards San Marco or the Rialto or a sunny courtyard.

I particularly loved the wandering as I find Venetian architecture to be utterly fascinating. It's really so unItalian and the Byzantine and Moorish influences are incredible. Which lead to a lot of conversations about the Byzantine empire and the importance of Venice (when it was a city state) as a defense to keep the Turks from invading Europe. The sea battles against the Turks came up several times in our tour of the Doge's Palace and, living in Turkey as I do, I had to grin at the exuberance with which our guide described the Venetian triumphs.

I was glad I'd brought my wide angle lens for my camera. My standby lens is an 18-200 mm but other than when we were on the Grand Canal it was pretty useless in Venice's very very narrow streets.

One of my favorite things about Europe, doesn't matter if it's Western, Eastern, Souteastern, what have you, is its cafe culture. Every square is guaranteed to have at least one cafe with tables and chairs. And since this is Italy, we were also guaranteed good coffee if we stopped. Or even better, wine! We tried an Aperol spritzer since they're so popular here, but it wasn't for either of us. For me it was too bitter which, yes, I realize is weird since Aperol is sweet alternative to Campari. I also think Prosecco is dry. I am odd. I embrace it.

On our last morning in Venice we hunted down the Arsenale - the old ship building area. Unfortunately all we got to see was the gate guarding the entrance, but it was still cool. It must have been quite a sight when still operational. Builders here would have been creating everything from gondolas to warships.


Wandering around we also got to see some randomness, like these guys playing water glasses. They were fantastic.

Wandering is thirsty work so we also stopped for refreshments.

Italian Sangia!
And to admire what seem to be cured baby pigs? I am still kind of hoping that this is actually salami shaped like baby pigs because, pork deprived or no, an actual cured baby pig breaks all kinds of my food rules. And I'll eat just about anything at least once.

Calzone I'll eat always!

This waiter feeding pigeons with a little girl is possibly the best thing to ever happen.

I love Italy for this if nothing else!
We had a fantastic trip. I ate a lot of pork, drank a lot of wine, enjoyed being surrounded by Catholic churches, drank some more wine, admired the city's unique architecture, and drank some more wine. As much as I love Istanbul I was sorry to leave Venice behind. And as I finish this last post about this wonderful city I leave you with this:

Yes, this happened

14 April 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week Visits Sirince

A friend visited last week and as it's been since last October that I've been to Ephesus it seemed like a good time to go back. A lot has changed though since my last trips.

I usually take Onur Air to Izmir because if you're going to do Selcuk and Sirince all in one day, the early and late Onur Air flights give you the most time. Although I really wouldn't mind if they decided to offer a flight maybe an hour later in the morning and an hour or two earlier in the evening. 22 hour days (up at 4 am and in bed at 2 am due to delayed return flight) are not my favorite thing.

The Hercules Gate-not sure I've noticed it before

Of course I stopped to pet all the cats. Again.

If you take the 6.45 am Onur Air flight take the time for breakfast at home or the airport. Onur Air no longer provides food or beverage as part of it's service (which is a pity because the breakfast simit sandwich was kinda awesome) and now charge an outrageous 3TL for water. Also to keep in mind if you go:

  • The new domestic terminal at Izmir is opened so everything is new and confusing.
  • Onur Air still provides a free shuttle into Selcuk but it's not where all the shuttles used to be. An on-plane announcement said to check with Onur Air ground crew about it. We didn't see any ground crew (to be fair we didn't look as I thought I knew where I was going) but I suggest you look. Otherwise you'll be like me and wander all over the place to end up at the unmanned information desk, call information, speak Turklish, get transferred four times, and finally get someone who knows about the shuttle.
  • The return shuttle (at 8.20 pm for the 10.30 pm flight near the kiosk to the side of the hospital) is still running per usual. 

I love a side trip to Sirince when I'm in Selcuk. I rather like some fruit wines, especially raspberry and peach, but even I think that most of those found in Sirince are pretty bad. Usually I go for the karadut (mulberry) which is what we did however we got a different bottle than I usually get. The Vinova is the "higher end" fruit wine sold here and it was admittedly better. If you think of fruit wines as generally being overly sweet you'd have most of those produced in Sirince pegged. The Vinova though, as I understood, has a lower concentration of fruit, is mixed with grape varietals, and is aged longer.

If you're visiting Ephesus I will always advocate for a side trip to Sirince and that you try as many of the ridiculous wines as you can (except the kiwi-really you don't want to go there) but if you're going to buy a bottle go for the Vinova.

13 April 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night

If you want to be technical, 11:00 is more late morning than night but my dog-involving curious incident was far more curious than Sherlock Holmes'. I've been to Masses interrupted by crazy protesters and homeless people (usually not mutually exclusive and a fairly common occurrence in DC), but I've never been interrupted by an animal.

Happily this Palm Sunday Mass wasn't actually interrupted. The priest, a few others, and I were in Saint Mary Draperis early preparing for Mass and praying when a stray dog wandered in. We were all a little taken aback and looked at each other with a 'what's happening' expression on our faces. Several people took turns trying to shoo the dog out of the church but with limited success as he just kept coming back in. It was like I was in a Vicar of Dibley episode-although sadly not one guesting Richard Armitage. Who, on the off chance he should ever stumble across my blog should visit Istanbul and look me up!

And then what I think we were all dreading happened...he wandered up onto the alter area. There wasn't exactly a collective gasp of horror since he didn't know he wasn't supposed to be up there...but there was a moment of frozen indecision as to what to do next. There's a lovely Turkish woman who works at the church and she was debating carrying him out but I could tell she really didn't want to do it. There seems to be an innate fear of dogs among many Turks. I'm glad to say though that fear does not mean they're cruel to the strays. Far from it. While not pampered like many of the stray cats, dogs are tagged, fed to a degree, and generally left alone. Which means that they in turn are pretty docile.

Luckily for me this one was a pretty friendly guy since, in the end, it was I who carried him out. I went up to the alter to help and when I grabbed him by the scruff to try to move him along he decided that meant it was time to lie down and take a nap! Seeing that he had no intention of moving I squatted down and tentatively lifted his front half (just to make sure he wasn't going to bite) before scooping him up. At which point I was vastly grateful to have a fellow female on the alter with me as it's really hard to scoop up a heavy, potentially bitey, object without also scooping up your skirt! While I was in a madly awkward position between hefting a heavy dog and flashing the congregation and tourists, my fellow dog shooer quickly saved my dignity (or most of it!) by tugging down my dress.

Happily the dog turned out to be quite friendly and docile and did not protest being carried out. Also thanks to the possibly Germanic or Scandinavian tourists who held open the door for me. Saint Mary's is at the bottom of long stairway so rather than carry him all the way up, I set him down and coaxed him all the way up the stairs onto the street, after which I closed the church gate to make sure he didn't once again get back in.

So, neither was it night nor did it involve the attempted laming of a winning race horse...but I think my curious dog incident could give the world's greatest detective a run for his money. Although speaking of...Benedict Cumberbatch is also totally welcome to visit Istanbul and look me up!

And because we cannot have a blog post sans picture, and I could hardly take a picture of myself while carrying at 30+ pound dog, I leave you with a picture of my own Sherlock in her favorite resting position.

I dunno, man. Cat's weird.

11 April 2014

The Island of San Giorgio Maggiore

If you're not in the mood for a longer side trip to Burano, there's always Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore just across from San Marco.

The church of San Giorgio seen from Campo S. Maria della Salute

The island of San Giorgio is the home to the San Giorgio Maggiore church and Benedictine monastery, an open-air theatre, and the Cini Foundation arts center. The church (another of the few that allow pictures inside) was designed by Andrea* Palladio in the 16th century.

The Monastery of San Giorgio


If I recall, entrance to the church was either free or was only like 2.50 Euro. The bell tower is about 6 Euro but the line is much shorter than that of the San Marco tower! The view is pretty spectacular. It also really drove home how small a city Venice is. Every city I visited on my first trip to Europe in 2000 seemed, to me, to be huge. And fair enough I suppose as I'm from a town with a population of under 5,000 (and I maintain they include livestock in that count). But now...both my friend who lives in London and I living in Istanbul, with a population of 15 million, were really taken by how small the city is. You can literally see all of it from the bell tower.

Piazza San Marco

San Giorgio facade in the foreground & San Maria della Salute in the back

The beautiful church and fantastic views make the trip to the island well worth the effort. There's a dedicated vaporetto, the number 2 (the last pier), that goes from San Zaccaria to San Giorgio. We only took a few vaportetti during our stay, preferring to walk. However single tickets can get expensive so if you think you're going to take a lot of boats, get one of the passes. Single tickets and passes can be bought at any of the piers and passes are good for 12, 24, 36, 48, and 72 hours and 7-days.

*I keep telling my parents they gave me a man's name and being in Italy just reinforces. There were at least four Doges with my name along with Andrea Palladio and any number of artists; including contemporary opera singer Andrea Bocelli.