Tuesday, June 24, 2008

SAILING ON THE SEVEN SEAS - Part II

"Night in Sorrento" by R. Engelbrecht
After leaving Naxos, our ship traveled Northwest to the Bay of Naples to the small town of Sorrento where there are plenty of panoramic views and tourist destinations. The people of Sorrento are very resourceful and industrious. They have utilized the steep hillsides to terrace farm between houses and apartments. Vegetables are grown on the ground level and shaded by lemon and orange trees which in turn are shaded by grapevines growing in a canopy over the trees. It's a very clever triple use of hillside land that would be considered basically useless by most. When you are in Sorrento you can easily pass time in several of the relaxed cafes, the Piazzo Tasso (central square), the fourteenth century Chiesa di San Francesco (a picturesque cloister), or in a medieval cathedral.

"Arches in Pompeii" photo by Trey Ratcliff, www.stuckincustoms.com

Our excursion to Pompeii was especially interesting considering it was completely covered in ash in 79AD after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The preservation of Pompeii gives you a time travel experience. Currently there is an archeological vineyard project attempting to grow vines just as they were on the day Mt. Vesuvius wiped out the city. They have a variety of old Greek and Roman grapes planted in 7 different ways. Wines from these vines can be purchased at www.mastroberadino.com. One interesting fact about Pompeii is, that in its heyday, the city had over 80 wine bars and only 30 bakeries. The bakeries used the same brick oven design that are used today.

"Flowers Out for a Walk" by Kristen Gooday
From Sorrento we sailed to Civita-
vecchia, the port of call for Rome.

Once the ship ports, passengers take a one hour ride into the city (typically by "Civitavecchia d'Arpino"
by Francesco Urbano


bus).
Your selection of choices to tour Rome are limited. Ancient Rome, the Vatican, St. Peter's Basillica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Trevi Fountain all vie for your attention. As far as the cuisine in Rome is concerned, you do not have to travel far to find street vendors and small local restaurants. Some of the best fish restaurants in the city literally take fish straight out of the tank into the fryer. Quinzi and Gabrieli is one of those fish restaurants; it was also voted best fish restaurants in 2008 by the locals.

"Monte Carlo" by Mike Cohn at Flickr.com

The final destination of the cruise ship was the vibrant Principality of Monaco. We sailed out of the port of Civitavecchia and headed Northwest to the foot of the Southern Alps. Monaco is a highly cultured place that touts the Rainer III Academy of Music, the Academy of Classical Dance and the Princess Grace Municipal Plastic Art School. The city is a great place for art lovers, museum-goers, sports enthusiasts, night owls and foodies. Alain Ducasse is one of several chefs in Monte Carlo who will give you an extraordinary dining experience.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

SAILING ON THE SEVEN SEAS

I spent the last 7 days taking a dream excursion that literally started in the "Cradle of Western Civilization." The people at Regent Seven Seas Cruises invited me to be a part of their 2008 Circle of Interest Enrichment Program. They provided the luxury cruise while I held up my part of the bargain to wine, dine, and entertain guests on the Mediterranean Sea. I couldn't think of a better way to jump-start the summer. The Seven Seas Cruise started in Piraeus, the main port of Athens, Greece. Prior to the 2004 Olympics, Piraeus received a modern face-lift; the port is now exclusively designated for passenger boats. Many Greek composers and singers have crooned about this city. Apparently Piraeus reflects the "Nostos", a Greek word that means "return" - much like missing one's country. Nostos evokes the idea of yearning to get back to the place where one belongs. Countless numbers of Greek seamen have departed from the port of Piraeus leaving sorrowful wives, girlfriends, mothers, and children mourning for their return.

"Old Major" by Thomas Schuman
When in Athens, one must see the Acropolis. It's importance within the Western world is continually validated by the multitudes of tourists who visit it on a daily basis. If you've never seen the Acropolis, check out the Acropolis 360 Panorama Tour. North of the Acropolis is Plaka, the old town area of Athens - one of the favored neighborhood villages. My family and I had a great dinner of mezzas and several other Greek dishes at Adriannos. We were also able to tour the open air meat and fish market; it is a different food scene for Americans because you can purchase whole fish and animals. Finally, our visit was topped off with a refreshing glass of champagne on the rooftop at the Grande Bretagne hotel.


"Boy and Old Woman" by Kristen Bazell"
We set sail to the Turkish resort town of Kusadasi. It is said to host beautiful rays of sunshine 300 days out of the year. This, of course, is great for the Kusadasi people because it makes for a long tourist season. The town in fact is a tourist mecca that typically holds far more tourists than it does locals. Visitors can have fun with jeep safaris, horse safaris, Turkish Nights (belly dancers), aqua-parks, scuba diving, and Turkish baths. We also got a sobering glimpse of Turkey by taking a trip to the ancient city of Ephesus. It was here that we were able to see the Virgin Mary's last home and the Basilica of St. John (the apostle John is the writer of the Fourth Gospel and the book of Revelation). You can imagine - restoration for an ancient city like Ephesus is always ongoing. The efforts are highly appreciated. It gives you a great perspective of what an anicent port city would have looked like during its peak.

"Santorini Postcard" by Scott Photos on Flickr.com
Our stay in Kusadasi ended in no-time before we headed southwest to reach our second destination located 63 nautical miles north of Crete. The southern most island of the Cycladic group (30 islands) in the Aegean Sea is Santorini. In the words of my son Jim, the city "appears to be in Hi-Def." It is so crisp in its color contrast. It has a spectacular view. Perhaps one of the best things about Santorini is its gastronomic delights. All of the locally grown products are enhanced by the volcanic soil and the full spectrum of the Aegean sun and sea breeze. Vegetables like the small white eggplant and waterless tomatoes are unique to Santorini. Traditional dishes include tomato balls, various stews, and soups married with eggplants, tomatoes, onions and capers, apoxti (cured ham), sausages, wild rabbit with fresh cheese, brantada (cod fish fillet), and saffron bread.
"Dreaming of Santorini" by Ed Pien
Saffron also plays an interesting role in one of the more popular and potent drinks called Citron on the island of Naxos (our third stop). Citron is a unique Naxos beverage made from the fragrant Mediterranean fruit by the same namesake. Some varieties of this 36% acoholic drink are tinted with saffron. Besides the glorious citron groves, Naxos is home to some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the Greek islands. In fact, the sand is so special they actually export some of the sand so it can be manufactured for sandpaper. Besides the tourist magnet beaches, other parts of Naxos still maintain remnants of unspoiled beauty like the little village of Halki. Do a little hunting, and you can find a red tiled church called Panayia Protothronos (Our Lady Before the Throne) which is covered in 800 year old frescos.

Naxos Cafe by jpegg77 at Flickr.com


Naxos was the last stop for the Greek-
Turkish portion of the cruise. In the next blog entry, I'll take you to Italy and finally Monaco where the cruise ended.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

ROCKETS ON THE RIVER

Photograph of Mt. Vernon
Stained Glass by Linda O'Leary

I recently had the opportunity to cook and speak at Mount Vernon, just south of Washington D.C. Mount Vernon was the home of George Washington and was also the site where the Kennedys hosted a state dinner there in honor of Pakistani President Ayub Khan where the guests arrived on the Potomac River by boat. My event was a special dinner hosted by AAA for their top California and Western State agents and their spouses. For this occasion I was able to work with an old friend of mine - Heiko Meisel. We have worked together, on and off, for the last 20 years. Heiko Meisel currently works with Design Cuisine. We were fortunate that our event actually got off the ground considering there were torrential rainstorms thundering through Washinton D.C. that afternoon. Two inches of rain accumulated within about an hour and a half, taking its toll by flooding our tent and the rest of the Mt. Vernon grounds. The staff managed to somehow get everything in order for us to work. The sky cooperated and miraculously cleared up at the last minute; the function went off beautifully. Our dinner ended in fireworks - literally. Just as I finished my speech a fireworks display begun over the Potomac. Guests were treated to a spectacular show of rockets on the river.