Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Turkish Simit or Greek Koulouri: By Whatever Name. . .

. . .the fact is, it is yummy!

One of my favorite foods when eating in Greece is the ‘koulouri’ or in Turkey, the ‘simit’.  It is basically the same food, just known by different names.

Similar versions of this bread-shaped-like-a-huge-donut can be found throughout the Middle East, including Serbia, Egypt, Lebanon and the Balkans. In each place, it is called by a different name. The creations originated centuries ago.

By whatever name, it is one of the cheapest foods to be found in both countries in which we traveled this spring. Depending on your point of view, simit or koulouri is either ‘street food’ or ‘fast food’ (and one of the healthiest fat-and sugar-free fast foods to be eaten.)

We were introduced to the Turkish simit a few years back while exploring the port city of Trabzon, Turkey, (where the photo above was taken). I was so impressed with my new food find, that I wrote about it and had to show off the one I was eating – still warm out of the bakery oven. (Click here for that post).

At a cost of about one Euro or a Turkish Lira (about $1.25US) these baked dough circles encrusted with sesame seeds are so filling that it is easy to eat one for lunch or breakfast. (They are probably great with a bit of jam on them.) We’ve always eaten them on-the-go; purchased from street vendors in both Greece and Turkey who set up carts like the one pictured below.  This enterprising salesman on Ermou Street in Athens had added donuts to his offerings, but they weren’t selling as fast as those sesame wonders.


This fellow also served variety of koulouri, which was new to us. It was filled with chocolate – not an overly sweet chocolate and with a consistency of cake frosting. Those lovelies are stacked on the center right in the photo below. (We split one of them for ‘lunch’ and ate on it all afternoon – as a little went a long way.)


While researching the history of simit and koulouri, I came across a two-year-old web article  that said the Istanbul Simit Tradesman Chamber had petitioned for an international patent for the circular creation to be officially known at the Turkish Simit.  I found no follow up reports, so that will remain a mystery unless one of you kind readers can update us on that initiative.

By whatever name. . .my favorite new flavor came from a small bakery in Mykonos, Greece. It was there I discovered the wonders of the apple-filled koulouri. It was heavenly! Again,purchased for ‘lunch’ but it lasted all afternoon. BTW, if I had to choose between this and apple pie, this tasty morsel would win, hands down!


We came to expect those simit/koulouri vendors and their carts at ferry ports and tourist attractions and along city streets. The most enterprising salesman though was the man who passed us on the Galata Bridge as we walked over Istanbul’s Golden Horn. He was selling to the fishermen who lined the bridge:


Have you tried these tasty treats or something similar? Where did you eat them and by what were they called?

We are linking up this week with Inside Journeys Foodie Tuesday and Noel Morata’s Travel Photo Monday. Hope you’ll come back again later this week for another serving of our Greek and Turkish travels. As always, thanks for your time and your comments!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Snippets: Greece Has Got Talent!

We had the good fortune to meet a number of interesting people while traveling through Greece.  As most of you who travel will likely agree, some of the most interesting things happen in the most unlikely settings. . .

Syntagma Square - May 1st 2014
We’d set out on foot to explore Athens on that May 1st Labor Day; a holiday of sorts when many workers were ‘on strike’ and gathered in Syntagma Square. Others simply weren’t working and most stores were closed.

We strolled the pedestrian-friendly Ermou Street that leads from Syntagma Square (and fronted our hotel) then looped our way through tree-lined boulevards and past small urban parks.

However as we walked through the popular-with-tourists-area of Plaka we were drawn to an art and jewelry store - first by the window displays and then by a friendly employee whose smile was sunshine.

We weren’t really shopping for anything, we told him. . .didn’t need anything else in the suitcases.  He didn’t mind – ‘take your time’ – he said as he explained the intricacies of various objects.

The conversation was the usual: Him: Where you from? How long are you here? Us: Were you born in Athens? Where are you from?

And then somewhere in the chit-chat we learned he was a singer – a real-live singer. He is hired to sing at weddings and other celebrations and has regular weekend ‘gigs’ at a few places he named for us. Elvis, Frank Sinatra . . .he can sing them all.  And to prove it he broke into song, singing Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon” for us right there in the middle of the showroom.

The Scout with Nikos Georgas
And then Nikos Georgas, who is in his late 50’s, told us that he was named the 2010 winner of Greece Has Got Talent, (a show much like the American version)  At that news, I told this Grecian crooner I had to take his photo so he insisted The Scout pose with him.

We had liked a couple of objects and told him we would think about them and perhaps return. He replied, “That’s fine. I am a singer – not a salesman.” And then added, “When you get home you can find me on You Tube.”

You know what? We did. And here’s a link to the winning announcement – it is in Greek, but you will understand it no matter what language you speak – do check out this amazingly talented man. Stick with it for a sample of his many songs.

Have you ever had a similar unexpected pleasure in an unlikely place? We’d love to hear about it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Road trip Greece: Porto Kagio in the Peloponnese

“. . . the main road cuts across the peninsula to the tiny east-coast fishing village of 
Porto Kagio, set on a perfect horseshoe bay.

A looping road led to Porto Kagio  

The village’s three competing accommodation options are in as remote a place as you’ll find anywhere on the Peloponnese.”
Lonely Planet guidebook

Akrotiri Hotel
With only three hotels, we’d emailed a couple of days in advance of our arrival and secured a reservation at the Akrotiri Hotel pictured above.  We should have paid attention to that part about ‘remote a place. . .’ and not worried about needing that reservation.

Porto Kagio
As we descended into the port, the narrow paved road that had looped us down the hillside became a rocky beach. The photo above shows the ‘main road’ of the aptly described, remote village. Didn’t take us long to figure out that we were the only tourists . . .in fact, we seemed to be among only a dozen villagers. (Despite the remoteness cell phones worked for those who had them and we had strong wi-fi connections.)


So deserted the place seemed as we drove into the village, we were somewhat surprised to see that our room – 40-euros-a-night -- was charming and had a large (by Greek standards) en suite bathroom.  That price included breakfast. (One of the best breakfasts we had on this trip, with egg, tomatoes, feta wedges and olives, I might add.)

Once we dropped our bags in the room we set off to explore this port that we had all to ourselves. Here are some of our discoveries:

A trail that led up and over a craggy knoll to a small chapel overlooking the sea ~


The chapel door was ‘locked’ with a simple hook so any visitor/worshipper could enter with ease.

PicMonkey Collage

The harbor was as picture perfect as the guidebook had described it, just a bit lonely in this early spring, on the cusp of tourist season.

On the far distant cliff-side there appeared to be other villages; we pondered how one would reach them. . .I zoomed in with the camera lens for a closer look.


It was a tranquil place, almost a spooky sort of tranquil, as though time had stopped here. It came to life for a moment with the arrival of a boat in the early evening. . .


Then it quieted back down to its slumber state. We sipped wine. Had some dinner. Stared out at the tranquil bay. And continued our explorations the next day. Lonely Planet described it well, it was as remote a place as we’ve ever stayed in Greece. It might well be one of the most memorable as well.

Map picture
That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday. Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for some more armchair travel.  Thanks much for the time you spent with us! By the way, what's the most remote place you've stayed?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Istanbul: One Sweet Taste of History!

Our four nights in Istanbul came no where near satiating our sensory experiences. Although we made a valiant attempt. Too many sights, sounds, smells and tastes will simply have to wait until ‘next time’!

On our quest to ‘see everything’ we logged 9.5 miles on our pedometer our first day in town and agreed that we had earned a visit to the popular confectionery  “Hafiz Mustafa 1864” just off Taksim Square.


At the time, we didn’t know anything about the place other than it tempted with confectionery treats that made your mouth water just looking at them. The photo below is only one small section of one of the many displays:

From a history page in the menu, we learned that this candy store got its start 150 years ago during the early years of Sultan Abdulaziz’s reign of the Ottoman Empire.


Founder Ismail Hakke Zade came to Istanbul to be a money lender. He began making a candy called, “akide” a type of rock candy in the basement of his shop.  It wasn’t long before his son Hafiz Mustafa came up with another creation, ‘pogaca’ – palm-sized buns served with or without filling. The two items were hits and the rest, as they say, is history.


Hafiz took over the business and by the early 1900’s had won 11 European medals for confectionery creations. Over the years the location has been renovated and updated but still has a wonderful historic feel to it. During our brief visit we watched the tables pictured below fill completely and lines three and four people deep were continuous at the take-away counters.

The menu itself was a treat - a small volume complete with photos and descriptions of candies, cakes, pastries, teas, and coffees. Its cover features the Hafiz Mustafa logo with the word, “Istanbul” written in Turkish.


So, in what did we indulge? We had a ‘filter coffee’ (meaning regular coffee) and a cappuccino and. . .


This is chocolate mousse with sponge cake at the bottom. The sprinkles on top are chocolate, coconut and pistachio nuts. The picture doesn’t show the size of this serving - it was a bowl, not a dish – it was huge and easily shared by two.

If you find yourself in Istanbul, be sure to visit this ‘historic site’ for one sweet taste of history! For hours, menus, location and time visit their web site: www.hafizmustafa.com  We are linking up today with Inside Journey’s Foodie Tuesday.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mykonos: “The Piano Bar” of Little Venice

Discovering The Montparnasse Piano Bar, one of a dozen of so chic bars that light up Little Venice from dusk-to-dawn during this island’s madcap tourist season, is one of the high points of our trip to Mykonos.

Although our time on the island was short, we managed to get in two visits to this legendary watering hole that has cultivated a loyal following among locals, tourists and ‘big names’ alike since its opening back in the early 1980’s.
Little Venice - Mykonos Island, Greece
But first a bit about Little Venice, one of the most romantic – and certainly among the most photographed – spots on Mykonos:
The 18th Century buildings with wooden balconies that make up the area served as homes of sea captains or pirates, depending on what version of the story you’re told. Some are still homes (and available to rent) and others are filled with bars and boutiques. You explore the area following a winding maze of narrow walkways as old as the buildings themselves.

It is fun to explore at any time of day, but it wasn’t until this trip that we learned how much fun it was at night.

We’d likely never have discovered ‘The Piano Bar’ had it not been for our American friend and novelist, Jeffrey Siger, who spends half his year on Mykonos – writing books.
(We’ve introduced you to him and his books in earlier posts.Click the link to see them.) Over breakfast at the hotel our first morning, he tipped us off to the bar’s seasonal reopening just the night before.

The bar – and its real life owners, longtime personal and professional partners, Nikos Hristodulakis and Jody Duncan – has appeared in the fictional crime mysteries Jeffrey writes as well as in the posts he contributes to the blog, Murder is Everywhere.


Arriving at a rather unfashionable early hour for Mykonos nightlife - 9 p.m. – we were given a warm welcome by Nikos and Jody (pictured above). With few ‘early birds’ they had time to share laughs and stories with us as though we had been regulars for years; a warmer welcome than at some places we have frequented for years.

David Dyer - pianist
The pianist, David Dyer from Colorado, who has been a springtime featured performer at the bar since 1987, began playing at 10 p.m. and had we not had an early morning outing scheduled  the next day we’d have stayed much longer listening to his repertoire.

His music was exceptional and brought us back to sit at the bar – just like regulars - the next night. The place reminded us of “Cheers” the bar featured in the U.S. television comedy (1982 -1993) where ‘everybody knows your name’.

That evening we made the acquaintance of a longtime visitor from Sussex, England who regaled us with tales of traveling in Mykonos decades ago - back when there wasn’t even a ferry dock and passengers got to shore aboard tenders.

I’ve long advocated the fun of doing ‘novel’ research for our travels. Often times visits to locations appearing in fiction stories make for some of our best travel experiences. And this bar didn't let us down.
The Scout, Nikos and Jeffrey Siger
I couldn’t decide if the artwork that fills The Piano Bar walls highlights the old wooden ceiling or vice versa. The Piano Bar which got its start at another Mykonos location moved in 1994 to the present location, that of Montparnasse, an art gallery that opened in the late 1960's and quickly became a gallery and bar.


Candle light and flowers accented the bar and lounge areas and added to the bar’s welcoming atmosphere. It is definitely worth a visit should you find yourself in Mykonos. (And travel tip: its lounge provides a great place to watch those postcard sunsets!)


While today we focused on drink, we’ll be back Tuesday serving up some photos of our food finds. Hope you’ll join us then for another taste of Greece. Until then, “Happy Travels” and a big welcome to our new subscribers! Linking up with Noel Morata's Travel Photo Monday

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Few More Reasons, “Why We Love Greece”

I posted a series of photos titled, “Why We Love Greece” on Facebook during our trip.  They were short little snippets of life in Greece and not the things you necessarily see in tourist brochures.

Because not all of you are on Facebook I thought I would periodically post similar photos here just to give you a sample of what makes Greece so special to us. These are the things we think of when asked, “But, what is there to see?”


It was Easter Sunday in Loutro, Crete. We were at one of the village’s sidewalk cafes having a glass of wine before moving on to the nearby cafĂ© for dinner when we noticed one of the small boats putting around the harbor. 


Were we seeing things?


Not at all! I zoomed in on this little Captain and he was taking his job as seriously as any adult.  However, he did start crying when his dad took over as they headed back to tie up at the dock. . .that is until dad put him to work learning how to hand off the rope.


Another ‘reason why’ occurred that same evening. We’d just moved to the nearby cafe and as we were ordering dinner the electricity went off. Not just at the restaurant but throughout the village. 


The place went completely dark. . .two restaurants had small backup generators which provided about as much light as powerful flashlights. 


That’s when the ferry, Daskalogiannis, that you also see in the background behind the little Captain in the photo above came to the rescue. The ferry runs between four small towns on the southern coast of Crete and at night –sometimes, this time of year – stays in Loutro. It cranked up the lights and lit up the harbor.

That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday. I’ll have more tales and tips coming from the trip, but we just last night arrived back in the Pacific Northwest and if you’ve ever had jet-lag, you know our brains are just a bit jumbled.  More soon. Happy travels to you. Stop by Nancie’s Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travel today!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Road Warriors need a Bath. . .Turkish, that is!

We’ve been on the road (or in planes, ferries, buses or trains) for nearly six weeks now. One of our longer European expeditions is coming to an end with our return home on Tuesday.

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The image you probably have of us -- with more than a month in Greece --  is that of a deeply tanned Apollo and Venus with sun-streaked hair; each emanating a golden glow – poster children for boomer-age rest and relaxation. Not so, this trip.

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TravelnWrite does Ios Island

We have more of a wind-blown look about us, like the photo above (my hair was pretty much always standing on end).

On this final afternoon in Istanbul we’ve scheduled Turkish baths at our in-hotel ‘hammam’. The thought of having someone else scrub our bodies from head to toe and then massage us with a magic elixir of restorative oils seems the perfect way to end this exhilarating, but sometimes tiring, adventure.

We’ve felt at times – and probably looked like as well - road warriors. Our hair has grown long and certainly is lighter, but not sun-bleached. (You boomers understand that one.) Joel has visited barbers twice along the way. Our skin has been both sun-kissed and rain-water washed resulting in a nice reptilian scale effect.

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Slow cooked beef in tomato sauce with feta cheese
We’ve eaten and drank far too much fabulous Greek food and wine. I don’t plan to weigh myself for at least 10 days after returning home.

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Loading up in the Lobby of Hotel Nef - Nafpaktos, Greece

We’ve lived out of those 22-inch TravelPro suitcases and the limited wardrobe they contained for what seems a l-o-n-g time. Even with limited clothing we brought, we’ve both been saying we must cut the weight of those on future trips.  Hauling them up subway steps or onto ferries, just has to be done on trips like this one, so the lighter the better.

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My newly adopted cousins, Eva and Sofia in Kardamyli, Peloponnese
 This trip has renewed and rejuvenated us – just like the Turkish bath will do to our bodies. Our brains and hearts are on overload and in overdrive. Too many wonderful experiences, too many drop-dead-gorgeous-views, too many wonderful people along the way. A road trip in a foreign country is not necessarily a relaxing one – but it certainly is one that awakens your ‘life-sensors’.

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Venetian port - Nafpaktos, Greece
At times during the trip we’ve remarked that we felt decades younger and at other times, decades older. We believe we have grown from our experiences.  We’ve chased those daydreams I wrote about in an earlier post; we caught them and released them, depending on the day and our mood. Our world of friends has expanded. Our passion for travel has intensified.
So we will repack those bags after being rejuvenated in the hammam and prepare to return to the other world in which we live. . . I suspect it won’t be long before we are planning another road trip in this part of the world – there’s still a lot left to discover. . .and we are not quite done with those day-dreams either!

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Thanks to those of you who’ve come along on our adventure, especially those who’ve taken the time to write emails or jot a comment. They’ve been most appreciated! Please stay with us as we have some wonderful people and places to introduce you to in future posts.

 Note: We’ve just returned from our Turkish baths (reptile skin is now baby soft and we can’t remember being this relaxed). . .an incredible experience. If you get to Istanbul you really should try it!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Greece: As this Odyssey comes to an End

By the time many of you read this our time in Greece will have come to an end. We fly to Istanbul Friday afternoon.

As I write this, though, we are still on Tinos, one of the most picturesque of the Cycladic Islands, awaiting the high speed ferry that will zip us to Athens’ port of Piraeus; a trip of  less than three hours.

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Windmill on Mykonos Island

My writing is interrupted though by the distraction of watching one of the several large vehicle-carrying ferries that regularly serves this island pulling away; our harbor front room providing us a perfect vantage point for watching the transportation activities. Tinos doesn’t have an airport – the only way to get here is by water. This ferry is bound for Mykonos, the island where we spent three nights prior  to arriving on this, our last island of our five-week-long Greece Odyssey.

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Porto Kaglio - Peloponnese

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Cretan Countryside
Our late March arrival coincided with that of spring. A fickle spring it seems as our weather has been a mix of warm, sunny days and others that had us wearing our silk long johns (or using those Seattle umbrellas we luckily had with us.) Spring flowers have carpeted our route through the Peloponnese, Crete and the  Cyclades.  

We have eaten some of the most fabulous food imaginable. . . wild greens from the mountains, or grown on the family farm, fresh made cheese, breads just out of the oven, olive oil that was pressed ‘just down the road’. . .you get the idea.

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Pavlos Restaurant - Loutro, Crete

Each meal holds a special memory but one we won't soon forget was eaten in the kitchen at Pavlos’ Restaurant in Loutro, on the south coast of Crete. This was one of those ‘long johns’ nights – it was far too cold to sit outside in this open air restaurant so Tonya (the chef) and Pavlos, the owner, set us up in the kitchen. That is a chopping block to The Scout’s  right. (We told them that in the U.S. people pay big bucks for such private dining – and that absurdity made them laugh!)

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Goats and historic ruins - a favorite scene, this is one in Crete

The Greek countryside and its islands are among some of the most beautiful lands on earth, to our way of thinking.

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We’ve covered a lot of kilometers on this trip and seen some of the best of the best – yet have barely touched the surface of all that Greece has to offer. It surely calls out for a return. . .

 peloponnese2014 218 And the warmth and welcome we’ve received in Greece is so fabulous that you must experience it to understand that statement.

It isn’t often that I hug and kiss hotel owners upon leaving their establishments back home in the States - let alone tear up as we drive away. On this trip I’ve done it so many times, that I’ve lost count. 

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Approaching Athens Airport from Istanbul in March
Our next report will be from Istanbul, or Constantinople, as it is still referred to in Greece.  Hope you’ll still be with us as we bring this trip to a close there. 

We’ve tales and tips to tell you about the people and places in Greece – hopefully, we’ll convince some of you to try some of the out-of-the-way (charming and inexpensive) places we’ve discovered along the way. . .
. . .as always thanks for the time you spent with us today. And a special welcome to our new followers of the blog and those following TravelnWrite on FB ~ many of you we've been lucky enough to meet on this trip!

Linking up with Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.


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