Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hello Mediterranean...

We flew on a mid morning flight one hour to the coastal airport of Dalaman and then transferred to the charming town of Marmaris where we boarded our gorgeous gulet and enjoyed a light summer lunch.  

The kids went crazy for the gulet which is over 100 feet long and 25 feet wide with lots of raised decks and rooftop sunbeds.  Our gulet has 8 cabins and each cabin has an en suite bathroom with flush toilet and enclosed showers.  We spent an hour exploring Marmaris which is full of quaint shops and winding narrow alleys dominated by a crenelated castle set next to the sea.  

The area is surrounded by tall mountains with green pine forests that roll down to the waters edge.  After stocking our bar with fruit juices, cold beers, local wines, and some goods for mixed drinks we weighed anchor and set off to a nearby turquoise bay where we had our first swim in the clear waters.  The water temperature was about 72-75 degrees and perfectly refreshing.  
Kids jumped into the turquoise waters and swam for hours...

Andrew jumping into the Mediterranean
Dinner was served al fresco in mid ship where we had a huge mahogany table set for 16 guests.  We immediately realized we had a great chef on board and knew we were in for a treat.  The menu consisted of mushroom soup, grilled eggplant and potato mezzes, flavorful bulgur salad, mixed shepherds salad, fresh bread which was followed by a main course of fresh caught fish from the sea poached in a wonderful white wine sauce accompanied by roasted potatoes. Desert featured fresh regional fruits such as plums, nectarines, watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, cherries and more...yum.  In Turkey most people eat fruit for dessert which is probably a good thing given the generous quantities the chef provides at the main meal.  After dinner we all gathered our pillows and blankets and climbed up to the raised sunbed on the roof to sleep out under the stars in the perfectly warm evening air....ahhh back in the Mediterranean!!!

Bosphorus Cruise, Spice Market, Best lunch at Ciya, Grand Bazaar, shopping and loving it....

Today we set off on foot to the Golden Horn where we enjoyed a tour of the lively spice market as the kids got to try various sweets like Turkish Delights and the adults sampled the various spices that come from the four corners of the world.  Saffron, cardamom, caviar, and much more can be found here.  

Shopping for a chess set at the Spice Market, Photo by Henry Swisher

Turkish Sausage and pastrami shop at the Spice Market, Photo by Henry Swisher

Craig, petting one of the hundreds of cats on the streets of Istanbul....
We picked up some spinning tops for the kids and they spent almost the whole day playing and competing to see who could spin their top the longest.

Rumeli Castle on the Bosphorus, photo by Henry Swisher
Next we headed over to the waterside where we boarded our enormous ferry and cruised up the Bosphorus between Europe and Asia.  As we cruised we marveled at the myriad of architectural styles that dot the shores on both sides and guests were amazed to learn that this is some of the most expensive real estate on the planet with prices ranging from 10-30 million dollars for a house with a view.  We passed palaces, castles, two suspension bridges, summer homes of the rich and hunting lodges of the Ottoman sultans.  

15 course lunch at our favorite restaurant in Turkey, Ciya Sofrasi, Photo by Henry Swisher
Lahm-i Kiraz, everybody's favorite dish today....
Our favorite chef in Turkey, Musa Dagdeviren
The big treat today was a stop on the Asian side in the Kadikoy District where we we met by Chef Musa at his fantastic local restaurant named Ciya.  We were treated to an amazing tasting menu as we sampled regional Turkish dishes that Musa has preserved and recreated here in modern Istanbul.  Our menu included various mezzes such as thyme salad, hummus, bulgur salad and our main courses featured sour cherry kebab and roasted lamb over grilled eggplant.  We were happy to see the kids were open to exploring this wonderful cuisine and everyone left completely satisfied and sated!!! 

Kids loved every bite at Ciya.... Happy kids, happy parents...
Fortunately this gave us lots of energy to attack the overwhelming Grand Bazaar back in the Old Quarter where the silk road has brought treasures from across Asia for centuries and the shop owners are expert bargainers.  

Karen and Maureen, shopping in the Grand Bazaar...
Tomorrow we are off to the Mediterranean to swim in the turquoise seas and hike to ancient temples along our route.  Our home will be a wooden yacht known as a gulet which is over 100 feet in length and made by hand of teak, oak and mahogany.  We can't wait!!!

Welcome to Istanbul

Welcome to Istanbul, Turkey. Every year in June-July, we organize a family trip where families with kids ages 8 and up can join us to explore Istanbul, cruise the Turquoise Coast and then visit Cappadocia.

This year, we had 8 families joining us so we organized two groups going parallel to each other. One group has 15 and another has 10 people. Each group has a guide throughout the trip. We'll keep you posted every day about our adventures, sites we visited, food we ate, activities kids liked, etc,...

Today our group of 4 families from Marin set off on a comprehensive tour of the Old Quarter of Istanbul which is home to most of the major monuments which reflect Turkey's rich history.  We started with the magnificent Aya Sofia which once boasted the largest dome in the world when it was built as a Byzantine Church in the 7th century.  
We marveled at the massive domes which were ornately decorated and perched in perfect architectural harmony one atop another.  The effect was stunning, as if one were looking up into the heavens.  After viewing the well preserved frescoes we walked across to the Blue Mosque where we soaked in the religious atmosphere of this venerable mosque which features some of the most beautiful blue Iznik tiles on the planet.  

Hobie and Jordan, in front of the beautiful tiles of the Circumcision Room, at the Topkapi Palace
Then we headed over to lunch at the famous Pudding Shop to sample some great local food.  This restaurant was a focal point during the height of he hippie trail from Europe to India and you can still read the articles about that era on the walls.  Our next stop as the atmospheric sunken cistern which was the water storage that supplied Istanbul for over a thousand years.  As we walked down below the city streets we entered into another world dominated by ancient columns that were salvaged from Greek and Roman ruins around Asia Minor.  The air was cool and the lighting was superb...Jale spoke of the famous James Bond film hat had a scene shot here in From Russia with Love where agent Bond sneaks under the Russian Embassy.  It is easy to imagine and feel the sense of mystery and intrigue here under the streets of Istanbul.  
Sunken Cistern, Photo by Henry Swisher
Our last stop of the day was the Topkapi Palace which was home to the Ottoman empire for over 700 years.  Courtyards spill onto inner courtyards as one makes there way through a maze of rooms and chambers dedicated to various aspects of the palace life including the amazing wooden carriages, the huge kitchens, the treasury, harem, living quarters and diplomatic greeting rooms.  Jale lectured about Ottoman history as we wandered through the Palace.  It was great to see kids were so interested in the history of Ottoman Empire.
Sam, trying on Ottoman style noble man's headwear
We needed our day with a big treat - a grand welcome dinner on the rooftop of our hotel which is strategically located just steps between the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque.  The views of Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara are outstanding and our group quickly bonded as we soaked up the city vibe.  As we drifted off to sleep we could hear the haunting call to prayer emminating from the Blue Mosque next door.
View of Blue Mosque, from the rooftop terrace of our hotel, Photo by Henry Swisher

Turkish wine tasting before dinner

Everybody loved eating imambayildi, an eggplant appetizer