Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It Must Be Fall

From far away foods in my last post, to local fall favorites--we couldn't resist hitting up Russell Orchards (in Ipswich, MA) to get a taste of fall. 

I love that the smell of warm, fresh-baked cider donuts permeates the entire parking lot as you arrive. It even overpowers the smell of the farm animals, and I'm thankful for that. 

I know everyone says their orchard makes the best apple donuts...but these really are the best  :)  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Turkish Food

One of our favorite things to do on vacation is to eat...heck, it's one of our favorite things to do when we're not on vacation. When we visit a place we have been to before, we make sure to hit all our favorite restaurants; and when we visit somewhere new, we sample the cuisine to get a feel for what the locals enjoy. Food is definitely part of the cultural experience.

It makes sense then that we came away from our trip to Turkey with some international favorites. Who knows if we'll venture to that area of the world again, but if we do, we know what kinds of things we'll be looking for...and what kinds of things we won't.
Our honeymoon happened to coincide with Ramadan. Those who celebrate the month-long holiday, fast from sunrise to sunset. During our first night in Istanbul, we had no idea where to go or what to eat until we saw a long line of people outside a bakery. We got in line and waited for our turn to get a warm loaf of flatbread (called pide) for only 1.50 TL (less than $1.00). We quickly learned that every night during Ramadan, the bread shop starts firing off hundreds of loaves of flatbread from their brick oven just before sundown, as the line begins to form. This was the best time to get a warm, fresh loaf of bread and it wasn't the same when Ramadan ended, so we felt lucky to experience it when we did.
Prior to our trip, Tommie watched Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel and was intrigued by his review of lahmacun. Lahmacun (meaning "meat with dough") is like a Turkish pizza. It is flatbread with minced meat and finely chopped/minced tomato, onion, garlic and parsley. We also really liked the cheese pide (basically pizza/flatbread with no sauce; just really good cheese on top). It was also affordable--the lahmacun in the picture was only 4 TL (less than $3.00 each).
I love olives, so it's no surprise that during our journey I was happy to discover that olives (zeytins in Turkish) are a staple starter for many meals, and they are also almost always part of a traditional Turkish breakfast. Since olive trees grow abundantly in the southern parts of the country, they are fresh and delicious.
Yes, we went all the way to Turkey and one of our favorite stops was a hamburger joint--silly Americans. We were initially drawn inside Mano Burger (located along ─░stiklal Caddesi aka Independence Avenue) in Istanbul because the style of it reminded us of San Diego burger places like In-and-Out and Burger Lounge. Come to find out, the creator of Mano Burger spent years in southern California and wanted to bring some of the vibe and food back to Turkey. He did well! We enjoyed flavorful burgers with caramelized onions and special sauce, and we loved their spicy fries.

Of course
kebabs (chicken, lamb, etc.) are a hit in Turkey as well. Our favorite local place to go for kebabs was Kafe Restaruant located down a side alley/street in Ortakoy.
Turkish people always finish their meals with a cup of tea. We weren't a fan of the strong black tea most serve, but being the sugar-centric American's we are, we fell in love with their apple tea which is like a sweet, warm cider.
We know gelato is an Italian thing, but we weren't complaining to find that it has made it's mark in Turkey as well. Just to be clear, we did try Turkish ice cream and thought it was gross--we recommend sticking to the gelato. Surprisingly our favorite kind was cinnamon, which had a really good flavor to it.
One food we did not care for was the Turkish version of ravioli. Tommie claims it may have even taken the #1 worst food spot away from my mother's pumpkin soup. It was warm, small ravioli with some kind of meat (we presume) inside, and instead of warm tomato sauce on top, it was floating in cold, plain yogurt. Let's just say the stray cat under our table was well fed that night.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Traveling Turkey (Part II)

(Village of Sirince, near Ephesus)
With the help of a travel agent recommended by our friend, we booked a six-day side trip from Istanbul down to the Mediterranean coast.

Again, we relied mostly on public transit to get us from place to place--taking planes, trains, and automobiles. We rented a car for a short while but gas is extremely expensive in Turkey so we didn't drive ourselves the whole time. At moments we were glad to be at the mercy of bus drivers who knew their way around windy mountainous roads; other times--like the five hour bus ride I spent next to a really stinky chain smoker who kept making smacking noises with his mouth--I would have rather been walking to my next destination.

Each place we visited was like a different country in itself, with varying geography, climate, culture and people.

(Breakfast at the Nisanyan Houses--yum!)
The Nisanyan Houses in Sirince (a small village on a mountain above the ruins at Ephesus) was a pleasant surprise. While the ride up the side of the mountain on the minibus was terrifying, and the hike up to the hotel strenuous, it was a beautiful little retreat up there. They also had the best breakfast ever with fresh fruit, jams, bread, olives, and cheese.
("The Library," ruins at Ephesus)
(Pamukkale; looks like snow and ice, but it's warm mineral pools you can walk in)
Our next stop to see the calcium pools of Pamukkale was by far our most difficult excursion. The buses going to/from were few and far between. The Richmond Hotel was hot, stuffy and outdated, and the people there only seemed to view tourists as big, walking dollar signs. The ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis and the "cotton castle" were very cool sites, it's just too bad everything around them was not.
(Ancient tombs at Hierapolis in Pamukkale)
We quickly discovered that the Turkish coastline is a major summer destination for England; local workers told us it's rare to see American's there. We enjoyed our time at the Kano Hotel on the river in Dalyan and at The Oyster Residences right on the beach in Olu Deniz. These were our couple days of "relaxation," though Tommie might still be scarred by our walk (that quickly became a sprint for fear of blistering) on the scorching hot sand which he likens to walking across hot coals. I guess that enjoying our swim in the calm, warm sea water could be considered our reward.
(River boat taking people to the beach in Dalyan; above are ancient tombs carved into the cliff)
(Driving down to Olu Deniz)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Traveling Turkey (Part 1)

Our honeymoon to Turkey may not have been what most would consider a "relaxing" retreat after marriage, but that's not really what we were going for. We wanted to travel, to experience something completely new, and have an adventure together. It was our first trip abroad together and it was very cool.
Bridge from Europe to Asia ( from our balcony in Ortakoy)

We began our journey in Istanbul. A kind friend let us borrow her "townhouse" in Ortakoy (just north of downtown Istanbul) which had a large balcony that proved to be a spectacular spot for people-watching, enjoying the breezes from the Bosphorus River, watching the bridge from Europe to Asia illuminate at night, and hearing the Islamic call to prayer from the mosque next door (this, however, lost some of it charm when it woke us up each night at 4:45 a.m. Note the megaphones...which were right outside our bedroom window).
During our stay in the city, we managed to find our way around the public transit systems and get to all the major sites (mostly via bus and tram). Be warned, those bus rides are not for the faint of heart--how there is not an accident every five seconds defies all logic.

Below are some highlights from our time in Istanbul. More to come from our travels to other parts of Turkey.

Topkapi Palace
Blue Mosque
Haghia SophiaIn the new district by the Galata Tower
Underground Cistern
Ferry down the Bosphorus
The Spice Market