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7 posts from August 2012

August 30, 2012

A TRIP BACK IN TIME IN TALLINN

IMG_4412 Armor w Oceania SignvcOn Marina’s recent stop in Estonia, guests visiting the Old Town at the heart of Tallinn were greeted appropriately by this knight in (not so) shining armor. On the UNESCO World Heritage list, Tallinn is considered one of the best-preserved medieval town centers in Europe. With cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved buildings dating from the 11th century and earlier, it is easy to be transported to a different time.

Many of the state buildings, churches and original residences date from the medieval period and have been preserved in their basic original form. The cobbled square has been at the heart of Tallinn life since the 11th century and is dominated by one of the most famous symbols of Tallinn, the Gothic town hall, dating from the early 14th century. The town hall has been meticulously preserved down to the ornate dragon rainspouts. 

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A particularly delightful aspect of the Old Town is the little shops and open-air markets where visitors can buy local handmade crafts like these hand-knitted sweaters and pullovers with traditional Estonian folk patterns and these souvenir bells with hand-painted scenes of Tallinn.

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One of the more popular attractions in Old Town is the 19th century Russian Orthodox cathedral, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Slightly out of place in this medieval city, it has been viewed by locals as a symbol of Estonia’s history of oppression and was nearly torn down in 1924 during a brief period of independence. After neglect during Soviet rule, the Cathedral was restored to its former beauty and now this classic onion-domed cathedral serves as one of Tallinn’s more famous tourist icons.

IMG_4399vcA Nevsky Cathedral

To get above the scene, guests visited Toompea Castle atop Toompea Hill. The original wood structure was built in the 9th century, and the stone structure was added in the Middle Ages. Substantially reconstructed over the years, it still retains its original shape and currently is home to the Estonian Parliament. Near the castle, there were archery pits set up for visitors to take target practice, offering insight into the peaceful and relaxed atmosphere of this region, for how often does one find weapons available for public use in close proximity to a government building?

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The views from Toompea Hill of the Old Town and its beautiful colorful buildings with red roofs were gorgeous on an equally gorgeous day.

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Guests also visited the oldest church in Tallinn and mainland Estonia, Toomkirk, also called St. Mary’s Cathedral. Originally a Catholic cathedral, it became Lutheran in the 1500s and now belongs to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Established in the 13th century by the Danes, the Baroque dome was not added until the 18th century. Over a hundred medieval coats of arms line the interior walls of the church.

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No trip back to medieval times would be complete without fire breathing and a meal inspired by ancient history. At Old Hansa Restaurant, guests are treated to a medieval-themed experience with servers in medieval dress and music and entertainment from centuries ago. The food was simple and delicious: fresh baked bread, Hansa House smoked herring, juniper cheese spread and dark honey beer in a big ceramic tankard (what Old Hansa calls women’s size!).

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Tallinn was a lovely escape into the past, made all the more wonderful when Marina guests returned to their thoroughly modern, immensely comfortable home on the sea.

 

Photos by Vanessa Cordo

August 22, 2012

AN EVENING FIT FOR ROYALTY AT THE WINTER PALACE

During a recent stop in St. Petersburg, guests onboard Marina were treated to a unique experience on an excursion called Musical Evening at the Hermitage. One of the oldest and largest museums in the world, the State Hermitage Museum sees approximately 2.5 million visitors a year. That is an average of about 8,000 visitors a day! So you can imagine how decadent it must have felt to be the only visitors in the building on this exclusive shore excursion.

The spectacular Winter Palace that houses the Hermitage was made all the more grand by the absence of the usual crowds. Constructed on a monumental scale, it was intended to embody the power of Imperial Russia, which encompassed almost one-sixth of the earth’s landmass and over 125 million subjects at the time the palace was built in the early 18th century. The clock tower bells that chime on the hour and half hour greeted the group for what was to be an extraordinary evening.

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The private tour began at The Main Staircase of the Winter Palace (also known as the Jordan Staircase) where the world’s dignitaries were greeted for state receptions and functions over a century ago. Restored according to the original designs after a devastating fire in 1837, the staircase is one of the only areas of the palace that has retained the original 18th-century style. The painted ceiling depicts the Gods of Olympus, and alabaster statues welcomed the evening’s visitors.

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After passing through The Memorial Hall of Peter the Great, the tour made its way to The Armorial Hall, once used for official ceremonies. With huge gilded columns, bronze chandeliers and stucco coats of armor framing the cavernous room, the effect was breathtaking.

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Emperor Alexander I created The War Gallery of 1812 to honor the generals who defeated Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812. When these portraits were hung, every citizen in Russia knew the names of these generals, 17th-century celebrities who fought valiantly in the war.

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IMG_5357The St. George Hall, or the Large Throne Room, is one of the largest rooms in the Winter Palace and home to the throne of the Emperor. Regarded as the throne of Russia, the velvet throne is emblazoned with the imperial coat of arms and the crowned double-headed eagle. The scene of  many of the most  IMG_5360
formal ceremonies of the imperial court, it was most notably the location of the meeting of the First State Duma, which marked the first time ordinary citizens were allowed into the palace in substantial numbers.

After a quick peek at the Hanging Garden through the windows, guests entered The Pavilion Hall with its 28 exquisite crystal and gold chandeliers and the visitor favorite, Peacock Clock.

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Next stop was The Rembrandt Room with 23 works by the famous Dutch master, including some of his more famous masterpieces: The Return of the Prodigal SonPortrait of an Old Jew and Danaë.

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Portrait of an Old Jew
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Return of the Prodigal Son
 
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Danaë

 

A particularly exciting moment of the tour was The Leonardo Room where guests were able to view two highlights of the museum’s collection. Of the few oil paintings by Leonardo da Vinci in the world, two can be seen at the Hermitage: Benois Madonna and The Litta Madonna.

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Benois Madonna
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The Litta Madonna

The group was then momentarily transported to Rome upon entering The Raphael Loggias, a meticulous reproduction of the famous 16th-entury gallery in the Vatican Palace. Under his supervision, Raphael’s pupils painted the walls and vaults according to his sketches.

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IMG_5431One of the museum’s masterpieces and the only work by Michelangelo in the Hermitage is the sculpture Crouching Boy in The Italian Cabinet. Unfinished, it is thought to have originally been designed for a chapel in Florence.

IMG_5449After taking in the art of many of the great Flemish and Dutch masters, guests entered The Small Italian Skylight Hall, one of three top-lit halls, to enjoy Italian art of the 16th and 17th centuries, including The Lute Player by Caravaggio and works by Tintoretto.

After the private tour of some of the highlights of this remarkable museum, everyone was able to take a seat and soak in the atmosphere of the evening with a concert performed by the State Symphony Orchestra of St. Petersburg in the largest of the three skylight halls, The Large Italian Skylight Hall. Surrounded by magnificent works of art by 17th- and 18th-century Italian artists, the orchestra brought the museum alive with works by Mozart, Faure and Tchaikovsky.

 

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As if that weren’t enough for one evening, the tour ended in The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting where guests sipped champagne and witnessed Cupid bringing his love back to life with a kiss in Canova’s sculpture Cupid and Psyche.

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Three Graces by Finelli bid the group a fond farewell as they left the museum. Although it was 10 p.m., it was barely dark outside. Guests were able to snap some final photos of the empty Palace Square and The Alexander Column, named after Emperor Alexander I and erected as a monument to Russia’s victory in the war with Napoleon’s France.

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The private event at the Hermitage was remarkable, and everyone left with treasured memories of a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

A special thank you goes out to Vanessa Cordo of Oceania Cruises for sharing these photos and video of the Musical Evening at the Hermitage.

August 16, 2012

RIVIERA CALLS ON DUBROVNIK, THE PEARL OF THE ADRIATIC

DSCF0309 Sail In copy“Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it." George Bernard Shaw

When I think of taking a Mediterranean cruise, there are a lot of images that pop into my mind, and I have to admit, until relatively recently Croatia was not oneDSCF0290 Sail In of them. But as we sailed into the port, it was clear to me that Dubrovnik, a beautifully preserved medieval walled city, is every bit as enchanting as some of the more famous tourist destinations along the Adriatic Sea.

Our arrival was greeted by the very photogenic Franjo Tudman Bridge, which is named after the first President of Croatia. Construction on the bridge was halted during the Croatian War of Independence, and the bridge was finally finished and officially opened on May 21, 2002. Against the backdrop of the crystal blue waters, Dubrovnik was already winning me over.

The Old Town was just a short distance from the pier, and I could’ve easily taken a bus or taxi. But having eaten well thus far on my cruise (as I always do on Oceania Cruises!), I figured I could use a walk, and this one was not strenuous by any means. And of course the views were lovely.

As early as the 19th century, Dubrovnik has been a popular tourist destination, and 13 of the 23 top luxury hotels in Croatia are located in Dubrovnik. As I walked toward the Old Town, I passed the beautiful Hotel Grand Imperial. Along the way, evidence of the history of this town and its celebration of art and culture started to appear in the statues and fountains, as in this Pan and Nymph statue in a quaint little park outside of the Old town.

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It is easy to see why Dubrovnik was named by CNNGo as one of the 10 best medieval walled cities in the world. The preservation of this ancient city is nothing short of miraculous given all it has endured over the centuries. In 1667, there was a severe earthquake that leveled much of the city, and although severely damaged, most of its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains were preserved.

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Before making my way to the Old Town, I took in the wonderful views of the Adriatic Sea and the harbor from a lovely café overlooking it all. 

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Eager to explore further, I continued on to Pile Gate, the main entrance to the Old Town, which was built in 1537 to protect the city from invaders. Every evening they would raise the wooden draw bridge, lock the gate and, in an elaborate ceremony, turn over the key to the Prince.

Guarding the entrance of Pile Gate is this statue of Saint Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik. Saint Blaise is said to have appeared in a vision in 971 to warn inhabitants of an imminent attack by the Venetians.

P5310168 Above gate statur DSCF0321 Gate DSCF0332 Gate to Old town IMG_0125 St Blaise

As I passed through the gate, I was transported to a different time. After the Siege of Dubrovnik a mere twenty years ago, Dubrovnik immediately began rebuilding and took meticulous care to retain as much of its original charm as possible. It is truly remarkable how much care has been taken to preserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The Stradun, the main street through the Old Town, is where the action is. A little less than a quarter of a mile, this limestone-paved pedestrian street has been the main thoroughfare of this city since the 13th century. As I wandered in and out of the little shops and enjoyed the architecture and views, I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening on this street 600 years ago.

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At the end of the Stradun on the east side is the famous bell tower attached to a Franciscan monastery, an enduring symbol of Dubrovnik’s resilience through the centuries. Having survived earthquakes and wars since 1444, the town began to fear the bell tower’s collapse and rebuilt it to its original specifications in 1929. The bell is the only remaining original part of the tower. If you look closely at the bell tower in a few of the photos, you may see a silhouette of a man. There are two bronze figures with hammers poised to hit the bell. Because bronze turns green with time, they are affectionately called the “Dubrovnik Greens.”

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As I continued to wander, I came upon a lovely harbor, and just beyond that I found an opening in the city walls that led to a café perched on a cliff. I decided to stop for some refreshment and free entertainment from the cliff divers that were making excellent use of this beautiful day!

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I particularly enjoyed seeing the Old Town from the top of its walls, built mostly in the 14th and 15th centuries. Originally constructed to protect the vulnerable city, more than a mile of walls encircle the Old Town, and the views are spectacular.

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Dubrovnik is famous for its coral-colored clay rooftops, and from the walls I was able to see further evidence of the shelling of Dubrovnik during the war. While there is little visible damage, you can easily distinguish the newly replaced tiles from the old, and the patchwork of colors serves as an unintended monument to this difficult period of Dubrovnik’s recent history.

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I had a wonderful day soaking in the history and the culture of this extraordinary city, so well preserved in the face of great adversity. It is easy to see why Dubrovnik has been coined the “Pearl of the Adriatic.”

A special thank you goes out to Vanessa Cordo of Oceania Cruises. Several of these photos are ones she shared with me after her visit to Dubrovnik.

August 10, 2012

CHEF KELLY'S ADVENTURES ON RIVIERA'S LANDS OF TIME CRUISE: Part Three

This is the third and final blog of a series on my recent adventures in Egypt, Israel, Greece and Turkey. I love Mediterranean cuisine and hope to inspire you to plan a cruise to this area, so you can IMG_1918enjoy the flavors of these ancient cultures as I did on this voyage, Lands of Time.

After a delightful few days in Israel, it was off to Rhodes, one of my favorite ports. The old town was bustling with colorful shops and friendly merchants (and even a white parrot). For me, lunch in Rhodes is always at the welcoming fish house overlooking the church ruins. Here the tzatziki was creamy with a hint of garlic and the keftas were grilled to perfection.

L1000579After lunch I returned to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Riviera to teach a class on Greek cuisine. We had fun using the grape leaves I purchased in Israel a few days before. We also made twice-baked barley cakes that we immersed in water for 10 seconds and then dressed with grated tomato, salt, olive oil, feta cheese and dried oregano. The taste of the barley is earthy and the sweet tomato and salty feta are a perfect complement to the fruity Cretan olive oil and uniquely flavored Cretan oregano.

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Our Lands of Time cruise concluded in Turkey in one of my most beloved cities, Istanbul.

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Because we didn’t arrive until noon, I had time for a Turkish Delights class onboard that morning in
the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. We made Turkish lentil soup with bulgur, b’stilla with a Turkish twist,
keftas on yogurt with a sweet tomato sauce, grilled flatbread, and a delicate rice pudding scented with rose water.

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L1050621One of the class favorites was the b’stilla: puff pastries filled with spiced rice and chicken, served with a cilantro and mint yogurt sauce. Here is our sous chef, Daniel, popping those in the oven.

L1000448When we arrived in Istanbul, my first stop was the spice market to visit my favorite spice merchant, Andnet at Sen Baharat. This is the best place I have found to purchase the red pepper paste that we use in our Turkish lentil soup and karniyarik (stuffed eggplant). My sister and I stopped into a recommended restaurant, Hadimi, where we enjoyed some traditional Turkish foods: humus with ground walnuts, nazuktan (eggplant with mint, almonds and yogurt) and cerkez tavugu (shredded chicken with walnuts and coriander).

Since we stayed overnight in Istanbul, we had a second day to hang DSCN4487out in Sultanahmet, one of my favorite neighborhoods because of the great shops, food and people watching. I had to try the baklava at an adorable little food cart and make a stop at the exquisite English bookshop, Galeri Kayseri, which specializes in English-language books on Turkish art, architecture, travel, DSCN4502
history and cooking. Here I found a fabulous Turkish cookbook, Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Basan. It’s very approachable, and the recipes are traditional and authentic. We are testing several in the culinary center now.

L1000395It was a warm day in Istanbul, so we stopped for some perfectly pink watermelon. I always enjoy the unique offerings of Istanbul’s street vendors, such as grilled corn, freshly squeezed orange juice, and simit, which is a circular sesame bread DSCN4484 often made with ground cherry kernels. I love that many of the merchants in Istanbul specialize in one thing and know that one thing well.

41JV262MRTL._SL500_AA300_I am reading John Freely’s Istanbul (the book that Hugh Grant tried to sell Julia Roberts in the movie Notting Hill), and it’s clear that this city has a rich and complex culinary history. I think to really understand any cuisine, one must dive deep into the history of its people. Nowhere is this truer than in Istanbul. I recommend this book to anyone who is traveling to Istanbul or who simply wants to learn more about this dazzling place.

Pepin-Essential-Cover200Before leaving Istanbul, we were able to squeeze in a class celebrating

the latest book by Jacques Pépin, Essential Pepin. In the class I focused on 10 tips that Pépin offers to help anyone “cook like a professional” at home. We covered the basic emulsion used for salad dressings, dry and moist heat cooking methods, L1050619crepes and the perfect tart dough. It was a great class, and we enjoyed sharing Jacques and Julia stories from his television shows with Julia Child. We also drank Jacques’ favorite wine, a Provence rosé!

And so ended another delightful trip through one of my favorite areas of the world. It was sad to leave the bustling harbor of Istanbul and say goodbye to the guests I had gotten to know over the last 15 days. I hope they will be back to visit their Oceania Cruises family soon. And if you haven’t had the opportunity to experience the extraordinary sights, sounds and tastes of the Mediterranean, I hope to see you onboard as well. Bon appétit!

CHEF KELLY'S ADVENTURES ON RIVIERA'S LANDS OF TIME CRUISE: Part Two

While it would be difficult for me to pick a favorite regional cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine certainly makes the short list, so I am excited to be taking some extra time on the blog to share my recent
adventures in Spain, Egypt, Israel, Greece and Turkey. As we begin Part Two of my three-part series on the Lands of Time cruise, Riviera has just arrived in Israel.

Small-book-01I have been studying a fabulous cookbook called The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur and have recently developed new Culinary Discovery Tours to the markets of old Jerusalem, Ashdod and Haifa. These tours, which will be offered this fall onboard Marina, will also visit several award-winning wineries.

Israeli cuisine L1020597 is in the process of being rediscovered in the food scene, but I have always loved it because it is fresh, healthy and full of tradition. Celebratory Jewish dishes mixed with traditional foods of Arab and North African nations and the inventiveness of young Israeli chefs have turned cities like Tel Aviv into up-and-coming culinary destinations.

Last year when we were in Ashdod, I spent a lovely day at the market, and I was looking forward to exploring the markets of other Israeli cities on this cruise. We first called on Haifa. I hired a driver and off we went to explore the Jewish and Arab markets in the Old City of Haifa and in Acre, 20 minutes north of Haifa. Because it was Sunday, we first headed to the Wadi Nisnas district and the Jewish market in the Old City. The mangoes, peaches and melons were in season and plentiful. I stopped at one of the spice vendors and found grape leaves, which we used in our Gloriously Modern Greek class later in the week.

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Dried fruits are always plentiful in Middle Eastern markets, and the apricots were so bright and soft, I had to buy a few bags for the tagine recipes in the upcoming classes on Moroccan and Turkish cuisine. The olive monger was happy to let me sample lots of olives until I found the pungent and salty variety that was my favorite.

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My taxi driver accompanied me through the market, and I loaded him up with lots of goodies. Soon our arms were full so we returned to the taxi, having only spent about 100 shekels, or 25 US dollars – not bad! But we were just getting started. We dropped off our load and returned to the market. The driver figured out that I was a chef and was happy to tell each merchant, “She is a chef on the Big O ship in the harbor.” Here’s the view from the top of Haifa, so it’s clear the locals know when we are in port.

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I then asked the driver if he knew “the greatest falafel place in Haifa,” because I had been there before but could not remember the name. Apparently, this restaurant lives up to its billing because he drove me right to it. Unfortunately, it was closed, so I snapped some photos to ensure I remembered it for my next visit. Falafel Hazkenim – I won’t be forgetting that name any time soon!

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L1050577We continued through Haifa and on to Acre to visit the Arab market, which was open even though it was a Sunday. The owner of the market is also an endurance rider with his Arabian stallion, and we shared stories of his races and my days of foxhunting. (Needless to say, I did not share my most recent equestrian adventure in Cairo on Humphrie the camel!) L1020518

I wanted to visit a spice shop that I found last year, Kurdi and Berit, to purchase some coriander, cloves, cardamom and black pepper. When buying spices, I always tell our guests to avoid ground spices. Purchasing them whole and grinding them is so much more fun, and the food is more flavorful as a result of the extra care.

After spending a whopping $75 on spices, we wandered through the market so I could stop and taste my favorite hummus with mushrooms in garlic sauce at the local hummus hang out, Humus Said. The umami of this dish is delicious, and it’s easy to make at home! You can make hummus by pureeing garbanzo beans with extra virgin olive oil and a few tablespoons of tahini paste, salting to taste and adding a squeeze of lemon. Then sauté a pound of sliced mushrooms with garlic in about 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Pour the mushrooms and butter on top of the hummus and enjoy with grilled flatbread or pita. It’s a simple recipe and it’s heavenly! 

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Spices and hummus were only the beginning of my market adventure in Acre. Like many markets in the region, the Acre market offers almost anything your heart desires – produce, fish, pastries, ceramics, clothing, kitchen supplies, and even a cobbler to fix your shoes!

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When we were traveling to the Dead Sea, we saw groves of date palm trees with nets to protect the dates from the hungry birds.

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And here at the market those dates were for sale. Of course, I had to pick up some for a tasting in class.

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I also purchased a kilo of sunflower seeds. We eat these by the bagful when in Israel, snacking on them like popcorn. The seeds here are huge and very tasty.

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The breads and pastries in Israel were beautifully displayed and baked fresh daily. These little breads were covered with za’atar, a mixture of sour sumac, dried thyme and marjoram and sesame seeds. The bread is eaten plain as a snack or with the many varieties of hummus that you find here.

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All kinds of fruit drinks were available, many freshly squeezed to order. Prickly pears were in season, and they make a delicious drink. You can find pomegranate and orange juices almost everywhere, and they are especially refreshing in the heat of the summer.

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After a morning of heavy-duty shopping, I was ready for lunch, so I headed out to the German Colony to one of my favorite restaurants, Fattoush. I love their welcome sign, which is a beautiful tribute to tolerance and how food unites us all.

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I ordered a shredded chicken dish (an Israeli take on shawarma) with grilled onions and fresh tomatoes and, of course, the pickled cucumbers that are so much of part of the cuisine of Israel.

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At Fattoush I dined outside amidst the Baha’i Gardens, where brightly colored glass lanterns and balls dangled from the trees overhead. The setting was delightful and the food even better.

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After three fabulous days in Israel, it was time to sail on to Greece and Turkey. As much as I would have loved to stay and explore more, I was very excited for what was to come in some of my favorite ports of call. In my final blog of this series, I will share more photos and experiences from my Mediterranean adventure, as the Lands of Time cruise concludes.

August 8, 2012

CHEF KELLY'S ADVENTURES ON RIVIERA'S LANDS OF TIME CRUISE: Part One

DSCN4554Riviera has just sailed from Istanbul, the city described by a 14th-century poet as “surrounded by a garland of waters.” The Galata Bridge diminishes behind us as we cruise along the Golden Horn to where it meets the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. This was the final port on our 15-day cruise, Lands of Time, during which we traveled from Barcelona to Istanbul, stopping in Alexandria, Haifa and many other ports along the way. I had the opportunity to experience cuisines from all across the Mediterranean, and so I will be sharing a three-part series here on the blog with the many highlights of this magical voyage.

We welcomed guests onboard in Barcelona, including my sister, Erin, who is traveling with me for a month. Our first stop was the Boqueria Market, a must-visit every time I am in Gaudi’s city by the sea, for breakfast at my favorite little stall. They always have a plate of fresh vegetables, such as artichokes and mushrooms, that they sauté with your eggs and of course, jamon. What would Barcelona be without jamon Iberico and fried eggs for breakfast? Yum!

 

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We had two sea days on this cruise, which are always busy days in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The classes were full and, as always, a lot of fun. We welcomed several families who took classes together and many guests who were true “foodies.” Having just returned from the Baltic, we celebrated with some new recipes in the Crazy for Crepes class: Swedish pancakes with saffron (a spice brought to Sweden by the Vikings from Constantinople) and authentic buckwheat galettes from Brittany.

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After stops in Ibiza and Malta, we arrived at the healthy cuisine capital of the planet, Crete. Escorting 24 of our guests, I led a Culinary Discovery Tour to the small Cretan village of Arolithos, one of our favorite culinary destinations this summer. We were greeted by the friendly faces of our hosts who shared their favorite Cretan dishes in a hands-on cooking demonstration. Guests learned to stuff tomato and grape leaves with a heavenly vegetable mixture. They also made agnopites – a phyllo-like dough made with the local raki liqueur and rolled with myzithra cheese into a treat resembling a cinnamon roll. It is fried and then served drenched in Cretan honey that has a delicate hint of thyme. After a few hours of cooking demonstrations, tasting and strolling through this historic village, we sat for a delightful lunch overlooking the ocean and the olive and grape vineyards below. As they nibbled at the wild herbs and olive tree leaves around us, flocks of sheep bleated as if encouraging us to come and visit anytime!

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After an enchanting day in Crete, we were off on a four-day immersion into the cuisines and cultures of Cairo, Ashdod and Haifa. Since my favorite cuisines are those with lots of fresh produce, vegetables and grilled meats, I was looking forward to tasting the foods of these ancient cities.

In Cairo, we began with a visit to the pyramids where my sister made me ride a camel. His name was Humphrie, and the ride felt nothing like the riding I did for 20 years on my sporting horses in Middleburg, Virginia! But you couldn’t beat the scenery – three pyramids and a Sphinx!

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As we drove through Cairo to rendezvous with the boat that would take us down the Nile, it became clear that mangoes were in season because they were being sold in little stands every few feet. Eating seasonal foods is still a way of life here, not a farm-to-market “movement,” as it is in other parts of the world.

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L1050468We ate lunch on a beautifully decorated riverboat as it sailed down the Nile. The buffet was a delicious collection of mezze: hummus with black olives, grilled eggplant puree with yogurt and chilies, dolmas (fresh grape leaves stuffed with minced lamb, raisins and seasoned rice), minted yogurt and freshly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. The keftas, or meatballs, made with ground lamb, beef and veal were L1050460delicious. Keftas are an integral part of Middle Eastern cuisine, and it is always fun to taste the various seasonings and meats that are used to make them.

After a wonderful day in Cairo, we were off to Israel. I had been studying Israeli cuisine and was eager to spend some more time in this amazing country. I look forward to sharing my stories from Israel with you in Part Two of this series on our adventures on Riviera's Lands of Time cruise.

August 3, 2012

AN UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE IN MONTE CARLO

PB080041Regatta recently called on the glittering city of Monte Carlo in the tiny principality of Monaco. When I think of Monte Carlo, I think of James Bond and movie stars in tuxedos and gowns. Monaco is where the rich and famous convene to play high-stakes poker, or race fast cars, or simply lounge on lavish yachts. Monaco certainly lives up to its reputation as a playground for the wealthy, but what really impressed me was how charming it was and how much there is to do for people like me. (Unfortunately, my role as Blogger-at-Large has not yet catapulted me into international fame.)

Granted, when Regatta docked in the famed Monte Carlo harbor, the million-dollar yachts were hard to miss, and the view was spectacular. There are several cafés on the docks near these impressive vessels, and if you linger there a while, you may spot a celebrity or two.

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Also living up to its hype is the opulent Monte Carlo Grand Casino – there is a reason all those films were made here. Decorated with marble, onyx, frescoes and sculptures, this casino was clearly built for high rollers.

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For those who don’t fare so well at the tables, they can find a peaceful retreat in the stunning garden that leads up the hill to the casino.

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Oceanic MuseumWhile Monte Carlo was certainly everything I’d ever imagined, I soon realized there was far more to Monaco than glitz and glamour. Perched atop the sheer cliff face at a height of 279 feet is the Oceanographic Museum, which was founded in 1901 by Monaco’s Prince Albert I, and where Jacques Cousteau served as director for many years. The building itself took 11 years to build using over 100,000 tons of stone. There are several live exhibits as well as impressive skeletons of marine mammals.

PB080164 St Nich CathedralNear the Oceanographic Museum is St. Nicholas Cathedral, which contains the tombs of the Monaco royal family, including Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. It remains a pilgrimage site for fans of actress Grace Kelly, who became the princess of Monaco after her fairytale marriage to Rainier in 1956.

PB080053 St CharlesAlthough much smaller than the cathedral, the Church of St. Charles makes up for in beauty what it lacks in size. Its bell tower reaches a height of 108 feet above sea level and is purported to be the highest bell tower in the area.

 

PB080154 Armory PalaceThe Palace of the Prince is an impressive compound with wonderful views of Monaco and the surrounding seas. While much of the palace grounds are open to the public, the royal family does maintain a private residence here, as evidenced by the sentries standing guard. If you can get to the palace by 11:55 am, you can watch the changing of the guard, a popular attraction.

Monte Carlo is a wonderful place to just wander the streets and get a sense of the city’s personality. Beneath the resort façade is a culture of centuries-old traditions and deep spirituality. During my meanderings, I stumbled upon Sainte-Dévote Chapel, an adorable little church tucked into the cliff face overlooking the harbor. I soon learned that the church is quite literally adored, as it is one of the most venerated religious sites in Monaco. Dating from before 1070, the church is dedicated to Saint Dévote, the patron saint of Monaco. By tradition, the bride of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco leaves her bouquet here after the wedding ceremony.

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Venez-decouvrir-villa-paloma-monaco-L-1I was so charmed by the architecture, the city streets and the stunning views of the Mediterranean that the waning daylight took me by surprise. As I began to head back to the ship, I realized I had not visited the new modern art museum or the Jardin Exotique, a beautiful garden with one of the most extensive cactus collections in Europe. It quickly became clear that I would need to visit Monte Carlo again on another Oceania Cruises voyage! Until then, I would treasure the memory of my day here, which came to a perfect ending as I watched the moon rise over the sparkling lights of the city.

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