Friday, October 28, 2011

Beer of the Month - October

The beer of the month for October is Dogfish Head Craft Brewery's Punkin Ale {7.0% abv}. What can I say more about Dogfish Head that I haven't addressed with previous entries? I enjoy Dogfish Head microbrews greatly, and since my last Dogfish BOTM I managed to watch all five US-released episodes of Brewmasters. While watching the series, the seasonal brew Punkin became subject matter and I realized I've never tried it. Fast forward to this past September when Punkin came into season. I used the fish-finder to find that one my favorite beer stores stocked it, with about a case and change worth in the back. I immediately had them put a case on hold. The following day I picked it up for my house stash and a few weeks later I finally had some downtime to enjoy a bottle of Punkin without rushing. This beer is a beautifully deep copper in the glass, and smells like Thanksgiving at your parent's house.

The surprising thing about this brew is that the pumpkin doesn't jump out at you when you take your first sip. If you've had pumpkin pie, or a 'sweet' pumpkin themed beer, just know this is not that. The flavor and aroma that immediately hits you are the spicy notes synonymous with Fall; nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. While this full-bodied beer is made with big chunks of pumpkin, added during the boil/mash process, you only get the pumpkin you expect on the finish. The next few sips leave you realizing real pumpkin doesn't take like pie and this is as good a representation as there is. Punkin has relatively light head after pouring, which reduces quickly. Organic brown sugar provides added character, but is more responsible for the alcohol content than overall sweetness. Long story short, this beer is fantastic. This ale could have easily been the BOTM for November, as it pairs well with poultry and other Thanksgiving fare. 4 stars. This beer is sold between September and Halloween annually, so make sure to mark your smart-phone calendars for 2012.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Eurotrip 2011: Ephesus and rug sales

The views from the bus were great.

After regrouping with our tour guide, we got back on the bus and headed down to ancient Ephesus. More winding mountain roads and I took some pictures out of the window this time around. After about ten minutes of driving we found ourselfs in a valley with small shops on either side of the road. Merchants were out and hungry for business, looking to sell their faux-lex watches and other replica items. Little did we know the local people selling goods here, at the archeological site of Ephesus, were some of the less aggressive salesmen we'd meet before the day was done ha. After our group was collected and entrance tickets were handed out, we made our way inside the gate to the ruins of ancient Ephesus.

By this time in the morning it was about 10:30am or so. The sun was strong, but I was toughing it out in the sun and not taking refuge under trees when our guide found opportunities to get shade to tell us the history of what we were seeing all around us. I had a half empty one liter water bottle on my person, that Beth and I passed back and forth, and the two (now one) bottle of water supplied by the tour. Since large bags were discouraged, I just brought my camera (with a sock to act as my lens cap thanks to the mistep in the Vatican Museum a week before) and stuffed my cargo shorts with spare batteries, memory and what not.

What all the smart tour groups did.
Pre-plumbing. I'd bet it was a much smellier place in 100 AD.

We worked our way through the grounds and I slowly started to mentally check out. I shot my surroundings and signs explaining what was in front of us for later reference as I found myself getting a little bit sun drunk before the ruins cleared and a magificent structure appeared. This was the Library of Celcius (Celsus). It was ironically named as by the time we were inside of it I was holding on for dear life ha. The good thing about getting inside of the library was that it had plenty of shade. I took another swig off the big bottle we had which was down to about 8oz of liquid nurishment and recovered before our next stop.


And the next stop you ask? It was a demonstration by some local actors, giving us all a glimps of what life used to be like when our surroundings weren't ruins, but were in full use. What you see here is a royal procession for Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. I made sure to find a large tree shadow to hide my head behind and had a seat; this is the only reason my shots here weren't better and free of tourist interference.

Don't get caught looking.
Milli Vanilli-esque horn playing.
Gladiators fighting for the entertainment of royalty.

After the presentation, which was pretty good btw, we walked back to the entrance to the grounds. On either side there was merchandise for sale, but more importantly beverages for the weary. One of the good things about Turkey was that they would accept any currency, including the Euro or US Dollar, so the $40 bucks that I cursed having on me thus far came in handy. As usual the drinks were expensive ($5USD for 20oz), but I negotiated a couple bucks off three powerades and flavored slushy; haggling was the way of the world here. After we made our way to the bus we were given a local snack. I downed my powerades and recovered a good deal. The excursion was now coming to a close and they proceeded to return us to the port of Kusadasi to get a tour of one of the biggest carpet makers in the area.

On the way back to port.
Turkmen Carpets presentation.

While on the bus earlier that morning, our tour guide told us about one of Turkeys biggest exports, handmade carpets. She explained that the women of Turkey typically make the carpets, but due to times changing and most women not wanting to deal with the typical tradition of arranged marriages and the like, they are leaving the country in significant numbers. The solution? The Turkish government knows how important handmaking carpets is to the culture of Turkey, so they've invested in carpet making by subsidising carpet makers so that the tradition can stay alive. One of the demonstrations we'd receive in the carpeteer we visited on this afternoon was by a Turkish woman in her early 20's. The process is tedius and depending on materials used and how elaborate the design is, the price of these carpets fluctuate wildly to say the least. We were schmoozed by the prioprietor as his employees rolled out carpet after carpet, from simple to amazing. 5-digit prices were quoted (for amazing), eyebrows raised, ooo's and ahh's made up the background music and then we were led outside. One the way outside, conveniently enough, we walked through the attached jewelry store which drew most of the female excursioners in once more. The salesmen were friendly and outgoing, but we managed to escape out of the frying pan into the fire of the bazaar outside.

From the amazing side of the Turkmen Carpets collection, this one changed colors depending on the angle from which it was viewed.

Bazaar alley.

We emerged into an alley-way full of people immediately exclaiming to us that they could beat every price we heard just minutes before. I don't know what most people who don't know me think when they see me, but I never thought I had 'carpet sale' written on my forehead ha. I took pictures between telling aggressive salemen 'no thank you' to offers and random ice-breaking jokes that many of them obviously have used with some success prior my arrival (and presumably after my departure). Loosing track of how many people I turned away within 10 yards in this bazaar, we made our way out of the lions den and into the coastal area of Kusadasi. It was absolutely stunning.

There were multiple restaurants lining the street and by this time it was around 1pm. While we had intensions of eating some local cuisine, it never happened on this day. The week was moving along, we were spending money on a daily basis within the ship and on excursions, and my spidey senses were telling me the available credit left for this journey was shrinking. I double checked my spidey senses online later and decided we'd have to take it easy so we'd make it through the Germany leg of this two-person Amazing Race episode. We wandered for a few more minutes before heading back to the ship and then found ourselves in one more forced buying opportunity. Much like walking through IKEA or Toys "R" Us, there's no simple walking in and out; you have to walk past some quick buy items first and in this case it took the form of a Burger King (there were a suprisingly large amount of these overseas), Starbucks, duty-free shopping outlets with candy, watches (real ones) and clothing stores. After this final tourist gauntlet we had the great joy of going through security again.

The tourist maze.
Another vacation day gone.
Back in the room and air conditioning, my mind and body was rejuvenated. More fluids absorbed, we made our way upstairs for the buffet madhouse. There was only one more stop on this cruise before heading back to Civitaveccia, and that was Crete. We'd be going to the beach tomorrow. As the ship was leaving port I shot more wall decoration quality shots of the beautiful coastline. I grabbed my camera again for sunset. On our way home the heavenly bodies would be on the opposite side of the ship, so I made sure to take full advantage.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eurotrip 2011: Mary's house

Sunrise in Kusadasi
 After leaving Greece we headed west towards the Aegean Sea for Turkey. We looked forward to our next destination, but it came at a price called sleep. With our next move came a one hour forward change in time, which shortened the nights sleep even further when we were getting up at 7am anyways. The excursion for today was Highlights of Ephesus (Kusadasi), and would take us through the Turkish countryside to see the ruins of Greek empires past and a very special biblical location I wasn't aware of until reading the excursion detail the evening prior. Awakening to another lovely morning in blue European seas, we had our go-to breakfast delivered to the room then went to the meeting area.

We were greeted outside of our numbered bus by our tour guide then received our rations, consisting of a map, water bottle, clay corked jug and other reading materials. Seeing the flag of Turkey waiving in port reminded me why I was glad Beth pushed for a cruise on this trip. Seeing other countries and cultures, first hand, is a great way to not only round your views of the world outside of your home and work life, but also to become well travelled as an individual. This was the farthest east either of us have ever been and out of everywhere we'd been so far, Turkey was by far the most scenic. We were on windy roads showcasing sprawling lush hills and handsome modern homes; we even passed by an amusement park not too far from port in Kusadasi. I didn't expect Turkey to be so western in appearance and this is precisely why getting out of the house is always a good idea.

The first stop on the docket was the House of the Virgin Mary. The concept of this home slightly blew my mind to be honest. I learned a good bit concerning the history of Christianity through Sunday school and the Catholic H.S. I attended as a teen, but what never came up in curriculum was where the Virgin Mary lived the remainder of her life after raising such a famous son. I was also quite fascinated by the fact that unlike what the current national flag of Turkey suggests (unless you are familiar with the Ottoman Empire), it is a historically secular nation albeit with Muslims being the religious majority. That said, antiquity and historical sites representative of Christian, Judaic and Muslim culture are all protected by the Turkish government. We arrived in a heavily wooded area for our first stop in Kusadasi, the House of the Virgin Mary, and were greeted by armed Turkish guards at the entrance.

The line to the shrine.
 Our guide gave us a basic gameplan on what we'd be doing next, as there were several hundred tourists gathering to walk through the restored two room house of religious legend. Our guide then gave insight on the key-hole like opening in the ground in front of us, as this was where the Virgin Mary was buried after her passing. The Virgin Mary's home is sacred and we were told in advance that no bare shoulders or legs were not allowed, nor was photography; this was much like our trip to Saint Peter's Basilica. Being that this was the middle of July, however, most people at least had shorts on. There were a handful of nuns on site that provided black shawls so those wearing tanktops could be respectful. Although the house was restored and seemed slightly updated (coat hooks, etc.), walking through the house was awe inspiring. The house was maintained over the years to be as true as possible to how it was when St. Peter and the Virgin Mary resided in the home almost 2k years ago. Several visits by previous Popes over the years have added to its lore, and the turnout today proved it. It's hard to describe what it felt like inside this house, but it was undeniably special. While a relatively large space in terms relative to the time it was built, there wasn't much to see; exposed brick and stone made up the walls and there was an open floorplan with two adjacent rooms. St. Peter cared for Mary in her final days and presumably used the second room for himself. There was a couch in the main room with a window above it, opening to those morning sun rays successful enough to work their way through the dense trees.

Upon exit there were multiple candle cases setup where people could light candles and offer prayers. There was a nun who came in to dump the lit candles out periodically, sometimes right after someone put a fresh one in the sand, because there was no way to fit them all in at one time. The Virgin Mary's house is a conveyor belt for visitors of all walks of life that runs all day long. There were flowers and lush foliage all around, growing wildly but seemingly 'arranged' at the same time. After exiting the house and passing the candle cases there was a walkway straight ahead that put you on the path back to the entrance where the guards resided. This returning path was lower than the pathway in by about 11ft, and immediately on your right resided a small collection of 'water fountains' all drawing water from the well on this historic site. Tens of people lined up for each fountain with empty plastic bottles and the clay jars we got on the bus...we were told the clay jars weren't quite watertight by our guide and boy was she right ha. Beth's jar leaked immediately so she ended up using her plastic water bottle to hold it until we returned to the ship. The rituals of all the international religious visitors at the fountains was much like snowflakes; no one quite had the same technique or method. Once Beth had her full container, primarily to bring back to her very Catholic grandmother Joan, we marked it to avoid mix-ups later and got back on our way.

Still not sure what these are.

Just past the holy water collection area was the vast prayer wall. It's a ~15 yard long stone wall with a hanging panel where you can pin your written prayers on whatever scrap of fabric or paper you can get your hands on. It makes you wonder how often they clear the wall off, because there's only a prayer-note collage outline of what's holding them all up.

Capturing Life's Fabric with Technology.