31 July 2015

Blue Cruise - Another Check on My Turkey Bucket List

Blue Cruises are one of the things to do in Turkey in the summer. I don't particularly like the sun or swimming...but I do love boats so I've been curious about doing one of these for a few years. Then as luck would have it, a group of friends decided to arrange a trip and invited E&M and me to join!

Blue cruises are usually from four to seven days long and generally, I think, depart from Fetihye or Bodrum. We did a four day cruise over Fourth of July weekend out of Fetihye so E&M and I got up stupidly early in the morning on the Thursday to catch our flight to Dalaman (the nearest airport to Fetihye). There we joined my other friends and caught a 10TL bus to Fetihye (and then a taxi from the otogar to the liman) where we boarded the ship that would be our home from the next few days: the Seaborn Legend.

We hung out on deck while the crew stocked the ship and got us ready to put out to sea-the Mediterranean to be specific. Apparently while we at the dock something other than supplies was also introduced to the ship. After dinner our first night out we were all relaxing and suddenly a cat, terrified out of it's poor, little mind scampers across the deck, sees us and freezes, then runs and hides as fast as possible. We were all as startled as the cat. We asked the captain if he happened to have a cat on board as a pet (no, he didn't) and then in that case what should we do about it. This is why I love Turkish people. He looked at us a little bit like we were slow in the brain and very matter of factly said "We feed it." I could hear the 'duh' he wanted to tack onto the end.*

Where we hung out during the day and slept at night.

The food was amazing.

Once we were underway it took a little while to get our sea legs! There are no shoes allowed below deck but mostly we didn't think there was a need for shoes period so we ditched them as soon as we got on board. I loved, loved it when the boat was moving. We never "sailed" the sails never went up and we just used the motor the entire time but it's understandable. When you're in motion for less than an hour at a time and dropping anchor twice a day putting up and taking down sails is a lot of extra work. Still, the breeze and the salt water spray were exhilarating sails or no sails.

Tea time on the ship!

In every cove we stopped there was swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, scrambling up rocks to jump off, and more. Cleopatra's Cove even had the ruins of a bath where she was reputed to take her famous milk baths and a rope swing which we rowdily employed.

At one stop there was a chance to go ashore and hike across the island to another cover where the boat would meet us. When we were preparing for this trip that sounded like a fantastic idea to me but when it came time to actually do it...nah. I stayed on the boat with a friend. We sat on the prow and enjoyed the ride to the next cove.

I wondered how you'd store four days of food to feed 12 people on the boat but it seems I needn't have worried because there are market boats! There was a bread boat from which we got possibly the best bread I've ever had in my life. She actually bakes the bread on the boat so it was fresh and warm every morning. There was a full-on market boat with produce, eggs, etc, and an ice cream boat.

Sunrise at Cleopatra's Cove

Sleeping topside was fantastic. Most of us slept up every night. The moon was so bright that we couldn't really see any stars the first few nights but when they came out they were beautiful. I didn't even mind the rising sun waking me up because that was gorgeous too! And of course the sunset was magical. We only got one because it was either hazy or we were in the wrong place to see it the other nights so the night we did get it we were all crowded in the front near the prow snapping away.

To top it all off I got the chance to fulfill my "when I grow up I want to be..." dream. Sort of anyway. I want to be a pirate. I'm still fairly serious about this. A wine connoisseur pirate. Our last night on ship I asked if I could take the wheel a bit-mostly I wanted to get pictures of me and Klockly (the bunny in my hand-that's a whole different story) sailing the boat. So I hammed for the camera a bit and made to turn the wheel back to the actual captain but he told me, no keep going.

So I did! I sailed that boat like a pro. Well...better than I drive car. Although really only because there weren't any other boats around to hit. I'd look at the captain every once in a while to make sure I was ok and he kept giving me thumbs up. Except for the one time he came up beside me, said I was doing well but...then pointed way over to my 10:00 and said that we were actually going over there. Oops.

Arrgg me hearties!!!

* Despite looking for the stowaway cat, which was dubbed Sailor Cat, and feeding throughout the trip we never did find the poor thing. The Seaborn Legend now has a mascot. If you want to sail on her and make friends with Sailor Cat get in touch with Ali at www.mybluecruise.com

29 July 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Chamlija 2012 Viognier

I went to Sensus wine bar a number of weeks ago and had a little bit of a shopping spree. Among the spoils of my trip was a Turkish Viognier. A Turkish Viognier!! I did not know that Turkey made Viognier and I was so freaking excited to see it I didn't even flinch at the 95TL price tag.

If you're going to spend 95TL on a bottle of wine though; this one is worth it.

Golden straw colored with an aromatic floral, peach, and apple nose; I must admit that I just sat with the nose for a little while. Sometimes the nose ends up being so much more enjoyable than the actual wine and I was worried that I would be disappointed by the taste after I'd worked myself into such a state of Viognier having excitement.

Happily I was not disappointed. My tasting notes read: "Ooooooo". Buttery with touches of honey, peach, apple, and apricot. Fresh and polished with medium acid, the Chamlija Viognier was a truly enjoyable drinking experience. One of the things I like about Viogniers is I find that, while they are dry wines, they have something of a late harvest flavor but without the cloying sweetness one often finds in late harvests.

Chamlija Viognier, we will meet again!

22 July 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla Kabetepe Rose

I've been through Suvla's Kabetepe red, white. and blush so I figured I should bookend the series and get the last one, the rose. I'm still a little resistant to pink wine but a) it's only 15 TL and b) it's Suvla so how bad could it be?

Not very, I'm happy to say.

In the glass it's a pale rose, salmon color with a lot of berry and floral scents in the nose. It even smelled dry if that's possible. On the palate it is low in tannin,  with medium acid, and a long dry finish. Crisp with berry flavors it was refreshing and paired really well with strong cheeses and dried meat.

I seem to be coming around to the pink wines. What is the difference, anyway, between a blush and a rose? Thanks to Nusret at the Suvla shop I learned this not too long ago. The difference is both simple and huge. A blush wine is a wine made with red grapes but in a white wine method. So after the grapes are crushed, the skins are removed immediately leaving behind lightly colored juice. A rose wine is made (with red grapes) in the same manner as a red wine (i.e. skins are left with the juice through the fermentation process) but are removed sooner than are skins destined to become red wine.

If you think it's impossible to find cheap but decent wine in Turkey you're almost right...but at 15TL Suvla's Kabetepe line is everything you're looking for. I would advise though keeping this one cold; the warmer it got the more reminiscent it was of church wine...and I don't know why but we seem incapable of making decent-tasting church wine.

17 July 2015

A Visit to Asia: Kanlıca and Yogurt

Since summer has finally arrived in Istanbul, E&M and I have been trying to put weekends to good use with trips like Mount Nemrut and a blue cruise (post coming soon!) and day trips around the city. A few weeks ago we decided to trek over to the Asian side to the village of Kanlıca.

It takes a lot to get me over to the Asian side. I can't really explain why I avoid it since I generally love any reason to get on a vapur, but avoid it I do. However a trip to a village famous for its yogurt was reason enough even for me. Especially when you realize that Kanlıca is up near the second bridge so it's a vapur (from Kadıköy to Üsküdar) then a bus (any of the 15s). A bus on a Saturday. There just aren't words for how horrible that is. Buses get so full, they rarely have AC and a couple open windows does not generate enough air to counter the million sweaty, non deoderant wearing bodies that are pressed up against one another. You really don't even have to bother holding on; you're packed in so tight you're not going to fall.

Yogurt with strawberry & kaymak ice cream

An hour and half after we left home we arrive in Kanlıca (Kan-lih-dja). We head for the first yogurt place we find and luckily get a spot near the water. Kanlıca does have a ferry stop but it's only serviced by the Bosphorus tour line which means the four (possibly?) departures each day are not at convenient times.

We sit down and order water (we need to rehydrate after that bus ride) and yogurt. E and I both order
ballı yoğurt (yogurt with honey) but M decides to be adventurous and orders the dondurmalı yoğurt
(literally, ice creamy yogurt). When it comes, the yogurt arrives with a bowl of powdered sugar. Apparently this is a thing. Ookay. Why not. It's good...but I am not a yogurt connoisseur so to me it just tasted like yogurt.

After yogurt we hopped back on the bus (sigh) to backtrack to Küçüksu Pavillion. Possibly the least expensive palace ticket (5TL) I've ever paid, it also comes with the world's shortest tour. A bunch of people gathered in the entrance foyer for a brief history of the small palace and a description of some of its features. The guide spoke only Turkish so I interpreted for E&M.

My stellar Turkish resulted in a truly informative discourse for them. Somewhat along the lines of:
  •  Built in 18-something something
  • two floors
  • look an impressive staircase
  • there's stuff in that room made out of walnut (wood not nuts)
  • Ottomans did something
  • Dude, who really wants chandeliers this ugly?
  • Gardens...
It was a truly informational day for us all.

After his speech we were left to wander the rooms on our own. Holy over-decorated, Batman! I like me some bling but really? No. I can never help but wonder if all the gilding is really real or how it made it through wars and revolutions unlooted. Generally one is not allowed to take pictures in these palaces but I find that if you raise your voice a register, address the guard/guide as abi (big brother) and super politely ask if you may take a picture that they'll let you take one or two. I did not actually take any pictures though after going through the difficult process of being charming and asking, I brought the wrong lens.

Being as the pavilion is near the second bridge we had a great view of the European Fortress on the other side of the Bosphorus.

So, maybe I wasn't totally blown away by the yogurt, but it was definitely worth the trip. For the parts of the bus ride I was able to see outside I had a heck of a view.  The icing on the day's cake was not the powdered sugar served with the yogurt, but the fact that, after missing two buses coming out of the palace, the bus we caught back to the ferry stop was both air conditioned and empty. It's the like the unicorn of Turkish buses.

15 July 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Gordias 2012 Narince

Now is the time I try to switch to white or rose wines to beat the Istanbul summer heat. Since I am really enjoying this new winery, Gordias, it seemed a good place to start my summer trend. For one thing, I really like the minimalist goat-looking logo. More importantly though-the wines are killer. I've been a little on the fence about Narince wines; aside from the unicorn that is an unoaked Chardonnay, I'm just not really into dry whites. I am into Gordias though so when I found a bottle of Narince at Solera (55TL) I decided to give it a go.

The Narince is not a big wine, it's a nice, easy drinking wine. Kind of like a porch wine actually. In fact, narince means "delicately".

The Gordias is pale straw with a lightly floral nose. On the palate it is soft but lively with light flavors like pineapple and plumeria and a lingering finish. The Gordias Narince is a light wine that leaves a lasting impression (a good one in case that wasn't clear).

13 July 2015

Truffled Macaroni Cheese

One of the things I miss the most while living in Turkey is cheddar cheese. It's not impossible to find here...but you'll end up spending about your entire paycheck for that really awful, dyed orange cheddar. That's just not worth it. Luckily I have friends who love me and the last time E was in the US she brought back a TWO pound brick of extra sharp white cheddar for me.

2 pounds!! There was happy dancing.

Kasar, cheddar, and Parmesan
What do you do to thank the friend who brings you two pounds of cheese? Make macaroni cheese of course! Macaroni cheese is the most amazing comfort food. It could only have been better if I'd had some friend chicken too. Preferably made by Lauren. Lauren makes amazing friend chicken. You will not be surprised to learn that I have a high cholesterol count. A few years ago my doctor told me to stay away from cheeses, cream, greasy and fatty foods etc. I was all: "No. No just give me some drugs please and I'll either eat a lot of oatmeal with the drugs or will die young but happy and full of cheese." Give up cheese. There's laughing in my head.

This turned out pretty well if I do say so. While I add nutmeg I'm not really sure why; just seems to work. Baking it at the end both keeps it warm for serving and has the added advantage of crisping up the top layer of pasta for texture. Even after all the cheddar I've eaten and making this batch of macaroni cheese...I just might have enough cheddar left to make it again!

*Nom nom* I really should have made more. The recipe made enough for four of us to each have a very generous bowl and with a side salad no one went hungry...but I totally would have eaten more after my gusts left had there been any more!


  • 2 Tablespoons truffle oil
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Teaspoon sea or table salt
  • 2 Teaspoons truffle salt (optional)
  • 1 Teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 Cup milk
  • 1 Cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 Cup grated mild cheese (I used kasar but Fontina would be great)
  • 1/2 Cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 Package pasta of your choice
  1. Cook pasta as per the package directions.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat a stock pot or deep sauce pan over medium heat. Combine oil, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and flour and whisk until a thick paste forms. 
  3. Reduce the heat to low, whisk in half the milk until a paste forms; then whisk in remaining milk. 
  4. Add the cheeses, reserving half the Parmesan, whisking thoroughly and add truffle salt (if using) to taste. I find that the flavor is usually more mild than I expect it to be.
  5. Combine with drained pasta.
  6. Optional last step: pour macaroni cheese into a baking dash, sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on top, and bake near the top of the oven (or broil) at about 250F for 10-15 minutes. Gives you time to prepare a salad if you're pretending to care about health.

10 July 2015

Nemrut-The Valley Tour

After the amazing sunrise trip to the top of Mount Nemrut we went on a valley tour of the area. Our first stop was Eski Kale (literally old fortress). Our driver Mehmet pulled up to a tea hut at the bottom of what appeared to be another bloody mountain, made a vague gesture upwards, and said he'd wait for us in the tea hut.


Where was my valley?! I signed up for a valley tour. I.e. a tour of a valley. No one told me I had to climb things so I look down into the valley. Not happy. At least this wasn't anything like Gerger so I followed E&M willingly, if not exactly gamely, up the hill.

Ceremonial cult cave

Antiochos I with Heracles

The views were beautiful to be sure and the climb wasn't so bad. I slipped a bit here and there but did not fall (yay me!). However what I did not do was follow crazy M into the cult cave. I got a peek at the steps (which alone would have kept me out) and they pretty much went straight down. And down, and down, and down. E and I sat in what little shade there was to wait. After a while though we started to worry a little. M wasn't responding to our calls, we couldn't see his torchlight, and he'd been gone a wee little while. E decided to give him 5 more minutes before going in after him; luckily that wasn't necessary as his light appeared a few minutes later. He was exhausted, and didn't seem entirely sure the trip had been worth the effort as the stairs ended in a tiny chamber with no outlet or anything particularly interesting.

Yeni Kale

We stopped next at the base of Yeni Kale (cleverly named 'new fortress') on the river Nymphaios. E asked Mehmet if we could climb up to the ruins and, thank you, God he just laughed at her. I was a little worried that he expected us to do exactly that. It was a beautiful spot with flowers in full bloom. Mehmet said people come here to swim in the summer and indeed there were some picnicers nearby.

Septimus Severus Bridge-seriously that's its name

From Yeni Kale we went on to another bridge...and I couldn't believe its name when we got there. This bridhe, built by Romans in 199-ish AD over the Cendere reiver, is the Septimus Severus bridge.


They named a bridge after a Harry Potter character 2000 years before the genius of JK Rowling even existed!!

The last stop on our "valley" tour Karakus Tumulus, or, yet another grave site. There's not much left as the site was plundered by Romans for materials (to build the first Harry Potter bridge no less). So basically all that remains are a small hill and a couple incomplete Doric columns. But I didn't have to climb anything so, win for me!!

For the sake of not having to get up earlier than 3 AM for the sunrise tour we chose to stay at the Karavansaray Hotel which is only about 8 kilometers away from Nemrut. It wasn't bad. They have a pool that we didn't use because it felt kind of awkward to play in the pool with the 4-5 male staff members and random villagers sitting around. The hotel comes with half board (breakfast and dinner) which were good but seriously bring snacks. It must have been the elevation because I was never not ravenous the entire trip. If you're not renting a car they'll arrange any number of tours for you the way they did us but your price bargaining situation isn't so great...you're pretty well trapped there without them and they know it.

All in all this was a fantastic trip. So happy that I finally got to tick Mount Nemrut off my Turkey bucket list! If you have the time (this can be done in a one night trip instead of two) it is definitely worth the trip.