Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Battle Of The Bar Door

I am involved with a few blogs where people who are seeking information on life in Italy.  Many are considering moving to Italy, and are researching the hows and wheres, etc.  These blogs are helpful and I try to make a few comments in them about life here besides writing my own blog.   For my subscribers….. I am back to writing about Italy.  Here we go, my attempt to season your romantic world view.

The sky today is  gray, the clouds are low, the humidity is heavy like a wet blanket.   Italian pop music rhythmically reminds me in what country I reside in, while  three old guys sit near my small table in my coffee bar, Cafe Jolie.  A balding guy with a neatly trimmed mustache is speaking in Veneto, the dialect of this area.  He bears a striking resemblance to  Higgins, the character on Magnum PI.  Looking over the top of his glass he says, “ Heyay gowa sua eeah ay cava subata laya comeeah waka veeyaw, si, roba comabah….”  Veneto sounds exactly like this to me.  The acoustics of the dialect Veneto to my ears has less use of consonants.  Lotta vowels!  Lots.

Not a day over 75,  two other men throw in their comments and laugh.  They hardly look up as a fourth old gray haired guy arrives and pulls up a chair.  Together the look like aged pall bearers at the Godfather’s funeral.  Should I be worried?

They sit relaxed and jabber.  They have ordered no coffees.  They are just here for some engaging talk.  No one seems to mind.   In a village like mine, bars are meeting places. Hollywood has shown us this picture numerous times, the tiny village, the old guys sitting at a table playing cards and the sexy barista tending the bar.  However, no one plays cards in my village.

Slot Machines in Bars Here
A rough looking man, in need of a shave, wanders in.  He is dressed in typical orange worker garb, the kind that highway workers wear for visual protection.  He walks straight to the door of the bathroom.  
Bars are useful for refreshments but also for the bathrooms provided for their customers.  I also have learned to use them out of desperation. 
I sometimes buy something out of guilt and sometimes I don’t.  Like the burger place, It’s in and out.    Bar bathrooms are the local public restrooms for Italians, and unlike in the 70’s, are quite clean.  (Remember this when you are a tourist.)  

                                           A Good Example
Two days ago I was in the village of Noventa Padovana where I had held a painting exhibition some years ago.  One of my paintings now hangs in the mayor’s (Sindaco) office.  Which ought to count for something, right?  I was driving by and in need of a restroom, as there are no gas stations there and we don’t  have  7/11’s in Italy.    So I stopped in the convenient free parking area and went into the city hall with the office of the Sindaco.  I was met with a scowl in the hallway by a custodian in an prisoner-ish orange suit.   I could tell I was in trouble before I started.  He curtly wanted to know what I wanted, and I explained I was needing a bagno (bathroom).  He said, “what?”   My hit and run Italian accent had revealed me to be a stranieri.   I had little hope in the first place as most Italians take one look at me and figure I am either German or Russian.  I told him I was looking for a toilet.  At this point,  with feigned outrage, he stuck his arm out and pointed to the door, while he said, “BAR!”  He was pointing to the bar directly across the street.   Here was the prisoner in that orange Jailbird suit, telling me where to go!  I was being viewed with considerable disfavor, somewhere between a bill collector and Vlad the Impaler.

Later I was having an interesting discussion with my wife, and she politely told me that in Italy people do not use the city hall bathrooms.  Those toilets are reserved for the pampered fannies of the elected officials. Something about the perks of officials here in Italy don't add up!  I countered with my thoughts on this:  In America, no one would be refused to use a bathroom in the city hall.  We  Americans own that city hall!   I guess tax paying Italians don't own the local city hall.  Where is the justice in this!  RISE UP, ITALIANS!  (While you are at it, more benches and water fountains, please!)

Then it got funny when my wife told me I had looked pretty “rough” that day and much like a Romanian immigrant.   (I don't have any Romanians reading my blog, so I am safe to use this.)     Should I be wearing suit and tie?   I have been judged before the trial!  I countered that I did not look like the 4 guys who robbed me in St. Petersburg!  
I looked at myself, clean shirt, pants, hair combed, shaved, (Okay, I did need a haircut) everything in place and to top it off,  I had smiled and was polite to the orange costumed custodian.  This is not justice!  What would happen  if I had a SUDDEN AND URGENT need for a bathroom?  
Such is Italy.  They can hang my painting in the mayor’s office, but I cannot use his urinal!  I think I want my painting back!

                                           Back to the bar. 
 The old guys have now ordered a spritz which is a combination of compari or aperol and prosecco (champagne style wine made in Italy and quite good- - a lot cheaper)  They have waited until after 11:00 because bars feature snacks for free when you order a spritz at this time of the morning.  Cafe Jolie brings to your table a large bowl of chips surrounded by tasty finger sandwiches.  While they are wolfing down the freebies, another old friend joins them, coming in from the light rain shaking his umbrella.   I have noticed that he has left the door open and we are now feeling the chilling effect of the cold sneaking its way into the toasty-warm bar.  This happens a lot in this bar.  I don’t know why, except that Italians like doors open more than I would.  They don’t seem to realize the money lost in losing heat this way.   The door remained open for most of the morning that day.
Music Videos Pump It Out
The day before this it had been an even colder day and sitting in the bar I glanced up from my keyboard and saw the door had suddenly been propped open.  I had a light jacket on and was feeling uncomfortable from the cold.  I looked at the barista, but she was busily sweeping the crumbs dropped from people’s brioches.  I waited.  I tried to get her attention, but no....  I waited....My nose began to get cold and my fingers seemed to be at the first stage of frostbite.  

This is more than a petty annoyance to me and finally I got up and closed the door.  ( BTW I am sitting 6 inches from the wall heater.)  Soon it became comfortable again.  I couldn't see my breath anymore.  Ten minutes go by and the manager rushes out of the kitchen and hurrying to the door says, “Dave, I must open the door, it is hot in here!”   What can I say?  It is 54 degrees outside.  She wants it the same!  They have lived their lives in this cold humidity.  The kind that caused consumption in the past.  I have lived in the dry cold of the Rockies and the west coast of the U.S.    This is Italy.  
Italian Breakfast Of Champions
Another heated discussion at home occurs the same day.   I am made to realize that scarfed and jacketed Italians walk in off the street to have a quick hard-core two-minute coffee “whatever” and leave.  They don’t come into a bar, remove their jacket, and sit around reading a book, working a computer or talking on the phone.   They come for their coffee fix, a jolt of caffeine in a tiny cup.  If they want to sit, they will do this during their hour and a half lunch.  (Factory workers only get 30 minutes, I say this to save myself another at-home discussion later.)  There is no lollygagging around.  This is NOT Starbucks!  I am the lone goof-off in the whole village.  For me, pacing is important.  At least they know my name in my bar!   (BTW we have checked and Starbucks in Milano is still a few months away.  So some of you will have to wait a bit longer for your souvenir Milano mugs.) 

Cin Cin!

This is life in Italy, the bare bones, reality.  People want to know.  It is not a hard life, and if you let go a little, you find a very peaceful one.   Those little things combined with no crime in my village?   They are gladly acceptable for me.  I just have to wear a better jacket…..
long underwear
wool socks
Russian hat with flaps
scarf (no I refuse that)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Two Winners in Tallinn

Old Center of Tallinn
I wonder how many people in the United States could correctly point to Estonia on a blank map of Europe.  Shamefully, I have to admit that I might have guessed right with a 33 per cent chance between Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.   You almost never hear about them, and the last big news was years ago when they broke from the Soviet Union.  Think about what you know about these countries.   Not much, right?

I had my eyes opened this summer.  Landing in Riga, Latvia and riding a fancy but cheap bus to Tallinn, Estonia.   Walking through the center of both Riga and Tallinn, we visited the wonderful markets and later found some great local cuisine.   It was easy to have our eyes opened to see the gathering weight of two economies.  Clearly, the citizens have decided to use a strategic approach and compete with the rest of Europe.  That took  hard work and a truck load of time.  

For several months we made plans to meet two men in Tallinn who started their own business from scratch.  Ascending through the ranks of the successful, these fellows now run a factory that turns out frames for stitching hobbyists.  People from all over the world now excitedly order and wait for their new frames to be quickly delivered.  You would be surprised to know the huge number of stitchers in the world.  They are organized, to the point of groups who have made friends with others all over the world.  They spend time stitching, discussing their projects and more, all at the same time. Modern technology allows them to use videos as if they are sitting in the same room.  It is actually amazing to see how connected they are.   They have even organized weekends where they meet, a convention of sorts.  One I am familiar with met last February and had 50 people from 5 countries.  Imagine 50 stitchers taking over a golfing hotel!  Many of this group use frames made in this Tallinn factory and so  we were interested to meet these two fellows and see what they have accomplished.

They Are Good Listeners
There’s an old guy and a young guy.  Alexei is my age, the old guy,  and he had been a soldier in the Soviet army.  When the Soviet Union was dissolved he was given a choice to move to Russia and remain in the army, or leave and remain in his country of Estonia.  This was a difficult choice because it meant he would have no income and be starting out in his later middle years.  He chose to stay.  The state offered some classes that were offered to help people find a new career and Alexei chose jewelry making.   During this class, he was asked by a  Russian lady to build a stitching frame, one he would have to design by himself.  The frame turned out to be a great success and Alexei began to get a lot of orders from Russia.  Along the way, he managed to find an unused army building and this is where the factory is today.  His son, Anton, is the voice of the operation and is now the one communicating with the people who order frames, he also helps Alexei in their construction.

Put yourself in the shoes of Alexei, facing his economic disaster and a huge change in lifestyle.  He was a man standing on a bridge in a hailstorm yet he managed to change his direction and forge a new life for his family.  It is the kind of  story that encourages all of us to never give up.  No job to a new factory, what a vivid contrast!

The outside of the factory looks exactly as you would expect an ex-Soviet Army building to look, in need of a paint job and a bit in disrepair, but the inside is filled with tools and machines to do their work. Alexi tells us that he purchased many of the large machines through auctions held to unload state-owned equipment no longer used.  They have plenty of space and are able to separate painting operations, from machine work.  The factory is doing so well that they have hired another fellow to do work in a side room and Alexei had to ask him to stop for a few minutes so that we can hear them explain how and where they do each of the processes to make the frames.  

We are shown a new frame, which is still undergoing changes, and we are asked not to show photos later.  They expect a lot of interest and they do not want the competitors to copy their ideas.  My wife sits behind it and offers  suggestions. They listen.  She is very positive about this new set up.  

Peter The Great's Humble Abode
We spend almost two hours there and then Anton takes us back to our hotel in his Landcruiser.  We will meet them later for a late lunch, but on the way, Anton drives by the house of Peter the Great.  I had no clue that Peter the Great had lived in Tallinn, but let’s face it, I know very little of the history of Peter the Great.  We also see the house of his wife, located across a small park.  However, these are no palaces, as you can see.  His huge palaces we will visit later in St. Petersburg.

At the Restaurant 

Like a cop at a crime scene I was highly interested in what these two men would choose to eat, and secretly I was wondering if Alexei would be drinking vodka.  They ordered in Estonian language and we ordered in English, so I had no idea what we would see on the table, but sure enough a jug of vodka appears with one glass, then two tomato glasses of tomato juice arrive.  This is kind of a shock to me as in Italy you  would die before you could find tomato juice anywhere, a store or restaurant.  Bravo, Estonia!  The juice did have a funny color.

World Peace!
So here we are, me, an American flag waver, sitting next to Alexei an ex-Soviet Soldier.  There is hope for the world.   Never in my wildest dreams would I ever think I would have lunch in such circumstances.  (I grew up in the cold war era.)  What is also amazing is that in one week I would be meeting and staying with my good Russian friends, Albert and Alfiya, making a double dose of world peace.

The food was excellent.  The restaurant, we were told, was one of the oldest in Tallinn.  The experience of meeting these two men with their life stories made the day one of our best in the summer.  I came away glad that my wife is a stitcher and made this day possible.  

To all you stitcher folks!  This blog page was also dedicated to you.   You now have a glimpse into people who make those frames possible.  I hope you can also travel to these small countries and see their beauty as we did.  

If you have read this far, maybe you would like to offer a comment.  You can do that by clicking on the area that says...."no comments".  Google controls this statement or I would change it to "make a comment"......


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Everybody's Friend, Umit

Turkey has so many beautiful beaches, but one of the best is Cirali.  Our research had revealed that this beach was a prime stop and still not overrun with sun-seeking tourists.  Every article written by travellers spoke praises, and we took a look using Google Earth and it looked perfect.  Backed by the green hills, the beach stretched for miles and near the village had many beach side restaurants.  What google couldn’t show us was a man standing at the gate of the restaurant called Ikiz, which means “twins” in Turkish.  That man made a striking impression with us through his ambitious work and his pursuit of making our visit a memorable one.

Two years ago
Meet Umit.  Umit the manager.   Umit the translator.   Umit the concierge, the helper, the friend to all foreigners, the hardest worker with the longest hours in Cirali.  He’s the guy at the gate, and when you come to know him you find him to be a funny person balanced with grown responsibility and caring for the people who visit his restaurant and pension owned by a local family.  

Umit made sure we enjoyed the regional products and led us through the menu each day as if he knew where the treasure was buried.  When we left Cirali it seemed like we had been on a road trip with a true friend.  The thing that comes most to mind is that right now, Turkey needs more men like Umit, because he shows the best part of Turkey, the heart.

Umit is kind of like Food Network’s Guy Fieri, you know, the kind of person you could come to know and like right away.  Built like a brick house, like the majority of Turkish men, he makes a striking impression with his gentle and kind way.  If Umit would wrestle Guy, The “Road Stop” guy would be on the mat begging for mercy.  

Every question we had about Turkey, about cuisine, about life in general for Turks was answered.  We discovered that Umit was learning Russian to help the hoard of Russians who were coming to Turkey.  (Now they are not coming due to the plane shot down.)   Once away from the beach work it was hit the books, a complete immersion into hotel and restaurant management.  I admire his pursuit of contentment for his customers. 

xray showing titanium and bolts
But it was a moment similar to a car crash with a freeway pileup that brought Umit’s quick thinking and care into reality.  It was when my wife accidentally fell and crushed her right knee.  The village has no doctor, no clinic, and no pharmacy, and we were about one hour from the nearest hospital.  Within minutes Umit had an ambulance on its way.  Umit made all the necessary arrangements got our bags packed and ready, and made sure that she was as comfortable as possible.  Without Umit, it would have been so much more difficult to get help so quickly.  The knee was so bad that the hospital began surgery immediately.   He brought an oasis of calm into an unexpected disaster.  

Mr. Cirali, Umit
That was two years ago, now the knee is healed with titanium, and we have been back to Umit’s Cirali beach.  Nothing has changed, it was still a calm and magical place. We found Umit smiling at that gate, and our memorable road trip began again.  At the end of the week, it was difficult to leave and fly home.  Umit has made plans to visit our home in the Spring.  I hope that you, dear reader, will visit Umit and his Cirali Beach someday.  

My Road Trip Restaurant


Monday, September 19, 2016

A Few More Stars of Antalya

No Matches Needed, Works Everytime!
Sometimes on a trip you have a Marco Polo experience.   We all want to be in pursuit of something new and different.   Two years ago my wife and I  thought we would find it hiking to the famous fire holes called, Chimera Yanartas.   This is a special place where fire comes out of volcanic holes, you could actually barbecue a chicken over those.  You have to climb a steep hill, on a rocky path, not for seniors.  However,  before the steep path, along the dusty road,  we had a real hit and run moment

It was a pleasant walking where along one side of the road were small farms, while on the other side was complete wilderness.   The only sound were the cicadas and the putt putt of an old tractor.  We passed a very  old cemetery and then a mosque and orchards covered with blossoms.  Rounding the bend we see a home made sign proclaiming “gozleme”.   We had enjoyed eating gozleme a week before when in cappadocia, but did not expect it on the south coast of Turkey.  We made a plan to stop on the way back and have lunch in the farmyard.

Grandma Makes The Dough
Gozelme is not a dream of Carlo Petrinin and his slow food gourmet enthusiasts, but more of a mainstream menu item to be plundered by hungry tourists and inhabitants of villages in the east of Turkey.  Describing gozelme, one would say it has the appearance of a quesadilla with fresh ingredients trapped inside, and here we are at a farm that has its own  field of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.   As planned, we stopped, we plundered, we tasted, we enjoyed!  

So this winter we sat, like two hungry vultures, contemplating another road stop at that farm to enjoy a  summer meal.  More than once we discussed how there was no way we would miss a revisit to this lady’s farm and her gozleme.    Thankfully we were able to make another memorable visit.  

                                      Two weeks ago.

crazy driver
We arrived at the farm and I was glad to get off that three wheeled scooter. The rented scooter had just about killed both of us, as Orietta struggled to keep the scooter from always veering right.   I got very religious a few times when she came inches from running into a barbed wire fence, then missed a few cars and nearly ran over some teenagers on the way to the beach.   To control the darn thing we had to go as slow as one could walk.  It didn’t help that there was too much weight in the back.

rolling it out
The farm lady’s smile told me she was enjoying watching our pathetic scooter circus act.     The farm lady was also smiling because we did not choose to stop across the road where there was a brand new restaurant and pension, her competition.  We were not attracted by that shiny and clean restaurant with a cultured garden.  We were headed the other direction into the back yard of a farm where the chickens run free and people sit to eat at an old picnic table.  This would be our slow food moment.  Gozleme Heaven.

The lady listened quietly while we proceeded to try to explain, using Italian, English and sign language, that we were making a repeat visit.   The sun was baking the countryside, so we were glad to sit under two huge trees and order our choices. We sat, listening to the chickens and drinking Turkish black tea made from a large teapot over a fire.  The lady disappeared into the rows of vegetables while her mother began to knead the dough.  A younger girl, apparently representing the third generation began to prepare the stove.

Rolled onto the stick
Gozelme is made from a very soft dough, then rolled flat into a very thin circle with a wooden roller similar to a broomstick.   (I have seen Orietta’s mother using the same thing making lasagna pasta.)  We watch a technique of rolling the dough by going at 12, 2, 4, 6, around the clock to make a nice circle.  She rolls up the circle on the stick a few times to get the dough super thin.  (Doesn’t look like that would work, but it does.)  Then she rolls the circle around and around the stick and then rolls it off onto  a hot rounded, metal cooker.  The cooker- - Imagine a wok turned upside, that’s the picture!    A few moments later with a quick flip, then she added ingredients, and we were ready to devour and enjoy.  
You can see the results and I know we will go back again next summer.

The historical center of old Antalya is interesting but one big tourist trap.  It is interesting with an old clock tower where groups of old men sit and discuss the day.  You can hear the tram jingle the bell as it stops right across from a mosque, and if you turn in the other direction you see the  bazaar where the salesman will pester you to look at their products.  We make a stop at a shop that  features a huge amount of spices and tea, and we purchased a kilo of Turkish black tea, some sumak and apple tea mix.   Then we went outside along the street where there is a tiny cookie shop

Always a smile and a cookie
I wanted to see if the smiling owner had some cookies I had bought last trip.  I knew where to look and sure enough he had a pile of them.  You can smell them from outside the shop, and I would vote that they are the best in all Antalya.  That smile and the taste of the cookies are inseparable!  

The light brown appearance of the cookie suggests something less tasty, but the taste is of an interesting almond flavor, and not overbearing sweetness.   Since we are leaving the next day we buy 8 to bring home.  The closest thing I can think of to this cookie is called Alzac.  In Italy I use a recipe for making a soft almond biscotti that has a similar taste and texture.  I used to find a similar cookie in Trader Joe’s in California.  Miss that place!  

                                          Another star of Antalya. 

Award Winning Take Our BBQ
Farther out from the center of Antalya , a brief tram ride away, is a small restaurant that does a huge take-out business!  Gazikent Restaurant is at Kızıltoprak, Mevlana Cd. No:12, 07300 Muratpaşa/Antalya, Turchia.  

Counting the Cash
I stumbled onto this place two years ago when Orietta was in a hospital two blocks away and I was out looking for something good to bring back to her.  I found a super place two steps above a hole in the wall, but let’s face it, a lot of Turkish eateries, have the same look.  You cannot be afraid.  John Candy, John Belushi (remember them?) and Billy Bob Thornton, Bad Santa,  would eat here!   They would do a killer business if they opened a branch in my village.  
We sit while the phone goes nuts, orders keep coming in.  (This place does delivery at noon.)  the workers clumbsily stumble over each other, while the owner counts out the change.  Near the back, the barbecue expert is racking up speared meat ready to cook.   
Pizza Guy and His Dough
Near the front, the  pizza guy is stoking the fire, and placing and replacing the Turkish pizzas, then he is working the softball size dough. He never stops to rest, it is one big pizza marathon.  It’s hot and he is sticking to the task with his long stick to push pizzas around.

There is a large glass counter which displays the meat ready to be cooked.  The meat appears to be infused with a spicy, tomato barbecue flavor.   

Pictures Help A Lot In Turkey
The menu suggests many selections, and with no trepidation we pick several.  Pictures on the menu solve the translation problem.  No Efes beer to be found here, like many restaurants in Antalya, the owners are Muslim and refuse to sell alcohol products.  We submit to drink ayran, a tasty yogurt drink we cannot find in Italy, - while we wait patiently, knowing from previous experience what to expect.  To be honest, it is not a submission to drink Ayran and it is the first thing we drink when arriving in Turkey.  

Our plates arrive and we dive in.  My wife tells me that we must return next year, but I already had that on our schedule.

One more blog post on the people of Turkey.  It will be about a hard working fellow called Umit who works at a successful beach restaurant. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Increasing Cast of Characters, Antalya

Personal cooler
Today’s blog post is dedicated to my readers, I know you are hoping for something to read something a bit more exciting than watching a chess match.    My confession?   At times while writing I really feel like a goat-herder in a foreign land.   My English teachers never favored my prose!   I didn’t try hard enough.  Are you old enough to remember Casey Stengel?    He said it best, “Without losers, where would the winners be?”   I never liked the Yankees, but Casey was quite a character.  Only Yogi could top him. That’s Yogi Berra, for any of you under 55.   

Herb Vendor
Today, it is the people.  The  spirited people we met in the past few weeks are working on me.  These are people who make you feel that they are not thinking,  come back when you can’t stay so long.  They are  super friendly, gratified to talk about their work and life.  

I really enjoy stopping and talking to the working folks in a new city.  Sitting a few moments with the guy who picks up the trash at the Kremlin in Kazan, and using sign language more than speaking, I make a friend.   
Coffee Roasting Shop
On another occasion, not quite so enjoyable, but equally interesting, I sit with an undercover detective while  he interrogates me on how I was just robbed.   He is dressed exactly like the four big guys who robbed me on the bus.  To describe him I would say, he looks almost homeless.  I jokingly mention this to him, and his face changes to one of wariness.   Then he realizes that I was complimenting him on his effective undercover look and gives me a smile.  
The investigation continues and then he closes his small tablet.  Now that he is finished with me, it’s my chance for a cross-examination about his work and how he goes about it.  He’s trapped and he is not getting away until I unload the torrent of questions from my mind.   During his interrogation, we both have a laugh or two, while he removes some stereotypes I have about Russian police.  Also removed is some the gloomy feeling one has after such an experience.   (BTW, After three weeks, we have been informed that my wallet has been found and is being sent.)

Got Knives!

50 Year Owner
Two years ago while wandering through the artisan area in the center of  Antalya I discovered a knife shop.   It was a gem of a shop where the owner makes knives and cleavers for cooking.  The display had many of different sizes of cleavers, and I chose a fairly large one.   Now when I use the cleaver, I remind myself to go back for a few knives.  I just had to go back and see how his knives felt in my hand.   (I am the cook in our house)  So on the return trip, I chose two large knives that felt comfortable and balanced.   

While there we forged a link with the two artisans, the father, who owned ran the shop for 50 years, and his son.  We learned that the father came from Ankara, the Turkish capital, where his father had a knife shop.  Three generations later they are the real deal, super knife makers.  
The son sits behind a grinding wheel, sharpening knives for another customer.  This customer knows some English and  grabs me by the arm, takes me to the wall where there are certificates and photos hanging.  He beckons to the older owner and relates to  the father/owner that I am from America.  (As if he didn’t know, — ha!)  The father goes to the wall and points to an old black and white photo of his father, the originator of this establishment.  Next to this photo they proudly display both a photo of the George Washington of Turkey, Ataturk and the flag of Turkey.  
While the customer is excitedly telling me about his uncle who lives in America, he is speaking in Turkish to the older owner what I am asking.  They are proud of their shop, and the customer is also proud.  Everyone feels important.  While the younger owner sits at the wheel and sharpens my knives he warns me several times that they will be sharp.  Then he shows me his display case with a special knife with art work burned onto the blade.  I ask to buy it, and he says that it is specially made for display only.  This is the knife I really want!  You  see the photos of our two new friends.  We will be back next summer, for sure.

When Orietta and I made a special trip to a market in Kumluca we discovered a wonderful market with the most perfectly ripened vegetables we had ever seen.  The photos speak of this! 
Every one is ripe!
This market was fairly large and the vendors were people who have  small gardens and bring their produce to sell.  It’s all mom and pop operations and you can see from these photos that the vegetables were perfect.  
Bag of figs
Every vendor wanted to talk about their produce and inquired to know where we were from, and why we were there.  
We had a mind to find some figs, sumak and isot biber, which are dark chili flakes.
We walked the whole market and at the other end of the market, outside the roof,  there was an old fellow who had carved a few utensils from wood and he had laid them out on a small mat.  Clearly he wasn’t part of the market, but was selling just outside where he did not have to pay the area rental fee.  We took an interest in his work, and he had a proud smile.   His work is now being used in our kitchen.  We will look for  him next summer.   Let's hope that things will calm down in Turkey, and tourists will feel safe to visit.   The problems they have had has not helped the tourist industry.

We take so many photos, it’s good that we don’t use negative film anymore. We can just shoot away with both the camera and the phone. 

I wish I could show all the photos, but with my blog software it makes it a bit too difficult.  What you get is what you pay for, and this is a free blog spot.  We  come away with some amazing photos, and my wife's big camera really is the perfect tool.   

Working our way back towards the exit we take a few shots and then  all of a sudden a young fellow steps in front of my camera, and proudly poses with a big smile.  We humor him with a few shots, and questions.  He keeps changing his pose for us.

He does not seem to bothered by the heat, but we are.  It is over a hundred degrees with humidity.  Time to find a place with air conditioning and something cool to drink.   August is a hot month for the Antalya area, and we are glad that most of our time will be at the beach in Cerali, one of the most beautiful beaches in the area.  We like it so well that  this is our second visit.

Just outside the market we have lunch, a doner kabob, for only two euros, our cheapest lunch of the trip with the cleanest bathroom of the trip.   And with super AC!


The unsung hero of the day is the Antalya tram driver.  Sitting in his cubicle, with no air conditioning, in a temperature way over a hundred, he jingles the  bell to warn people off the track and stops long enough for the old folks to get on and off the tram safely.  I think how it would feel to sit as a driver of a tram for a entire career .   (I think I was lucky.)   Everyday, as a teacher, was different for me, but for him,  every day it is the track and the route.  He must always be alert and not have a lapse of attentiveness.  Two stars in my book. 
Large Sunflower Seeds

It is the people of Turkey who make it special.  I hope you will consider a visit some day.  

One more blog post on the people of Turkey, then I have some things to say about Talliin and Riga.   After that the blog will return to Italy.

I have had to stop the link for subscribers, as google does not allow me to track the information.  Sorry.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Stars of Kazan

Kazan, Russia
Growing up in the 50’s I never thought I would ever sleep in the home of a Russian person.  We were taught to expect the worst between our countries. The silly  practice of diving under our desks at school to protect ourselves from the nuclear blast, did not make for positive thoughts towards the Soviet Union and the Russian people.   Yet, trends have evolved over time, the sea has calmed and now, regardless of the leaders, the internet brings everyone closer together.

Here we are, carried like a tornado in the Wizard of Oz, into the warm home of our Russian friends, Albert and Alfiya, and we apply a branding iron to our friendship.  Albert and Alfiya are  real stars,  unofficial ambassadors of Kazan in Tatarstan.   Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan, and the eighth largest city in Russia. 
Alfiya, Orietta and Albert

We were treated to three wonderful days with long conversations where we learned so much about the day to day life in Russia.  We heard the good and the bad, we reacted, we listened, the whole experience was engaging, and yes, we answered questions about America, and our friendship grew.  That is the subject of this blog, and I hope you will enjoy this glimpse into the Russian experience.

Albert is a doctor of medicine, as is his charming wife, Alfiya.  We learned about their work, Alfiya works in the cancer ward of her hospital, and Albert is an administrator in a private health clinic.  They both work long hours, for example, Albert works 6 days a week.   We were shocked to learn that doctors in Russia are not paid salaries close to medical doctors in the United States.  They have learned to make the most of their weekends, and vacations.  While we were there they received notice that they had been granted new travel visas to America, and we had occasion to celebrate!  They appreciate America  and have traveled to the states several times.     

Salmon Caviar
We arrived late at night and were surprised to find a huge spread of food ready to be tasted when we arrived at their home.  It was quite overwhelming as the table began to be covered with goodies from the American size refrigerator.  Albert had purchased many different brands of Russian beer, pastries sweet and not, and he prepared caviar on toast.  The photo shows this better.

The following morning I hear Albert in the kitchen and we are catered to a terrific breakfast.  Albert jokes about  Denny’s breakfast menu, as he likes a big breakfast when in America, so we are treated to the same, Russian style.  He clearly enjoys working in the kitchen and he tried to make us feel at home.  We learned that when eating in Russia, pacing is important.  
Looking around their modern kitchen, they had all the things we have in Italy, microwave, cappuccino maker, large oven and so on.  Their kitchen was actually a lot bigger than our Italian kitchen, and they have a window that looks out onto a large forested area.  We asked about this area and Albert says that it is owned by a man who was planning a large construction project, but he fell out of grace with Putin and left the country.  We hear this “out of favor” kind of story more than once while there.  
Working Hard in Modern Kitchen

On one plate Albert has placed some hot dogs that he has boiled.  I am a fan of a good hot dog.  We are able to find German hot dogs, the white kind that are famous in Munich, in a store  called Lidl near our village.  Every time I bite into a hot dog I go back to taking my kids to a ball game to see the Oakland A’s.  So I am happy to try a Kazan dog.  OMG….Seriously this is the best hot dog I have ever eaten!  In fact, I must say that this is the best food we have eaten on this trip, and believe me we have tried a lot of foods.   

Dynamite Dogs
There is something about these little gems that makes me want more.  I make Albert promise that when he comes to Italy for a visit, he smuggles some of these in his suitcase.  Just the right amount of smokiness!  They are that good!   I know this photo  does not do them justice, they look like plain hot dogs, but they are the number one dog in the  world!!!

Kul-Sharif Mosque
We are driven to the center of Kazan, and find it to be a modern city, looking much different from St. Petersburg where we had just spent several days.  There is a pleasant river setting in the  center, and we parked and walked up to the Kremlin for a short tour and some photo moments.   We find out that Ivan the Terrible built the town hall over the ruins of the castle.  The buildings and structures here are beautiful.   Nearby you can see Kul-Sharif Mosque, which is a postcard in itself.    For more info on Kazan’s Kremlin go to:   https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cremlino_di_Kazan%27

Cheese Inside
We were taken nearby to a restaurant that features food from Tatarstan.  Albert made choices we should try, and we feasted!  The next day we  went to a Georgian restaurant, which is different that Tartar food.    Here are some foods we tasted during our visit.

Borscht made by Alfiya

Dumplings With Meat

The cuisine of Kazan has a lot of dumpling type dishes.   We also find so many types of these in the supermarket.  

Sviyazhsk Church
The second day we were driven far from Kazan to see the Volga River.   We parked at the edge of an island called Sviyazhsk (try to pronounce that) where we walked up 4 flights of stairs to find small village and monastery.  In 1551 it was built as a fortress and used as a military base of the Russian army during the siege of Kazan (1552).  Albert explained that this monastery was also used as a prison  and that during WWII it held prisoners of war.  The houses were made of wood with typical Russian trim.  

Vendor In Costume

On the far side was a small area for selling locally made souvenirs, and we were treated to a performance of a sword battle with two men in costumes of armour.  It was not a Universal Studios battle, these guys were really whacking each other.  Once they stopped while a helmet was turned back around.  
They also had to stop for a few minutes as one fellow received a blow and felt a bit of pain.  I am not sure they were friends.

Albert, Barbecue Chef

Somehow that night Albert found the energy to put on a barbecue using his Tandyr, or Tandoor, which his brother had given as a gift. Albert had been telling us for months how he was practicing to perfect the results.  We had seen a lot of photos, but now we got to taste the real thing.  The results we tasted were perfect!   The large Tandyr is heated with fire, and when the fire dies there is a basket and a grill that is hung inside and then the lid is closed.  What is trapped inside becomes so soft and flavorful.   That Tandyr brings it all together perfectly!  I only wish I could own one of these, but unfortunately, my little terrace would not be a good place for one.  You can see on the right it as Albert is starting process.

Alfiya Smiles All The Time

These few days we are getting to know each other and I am seeing such pleasant sides to them both.  Alfiya is such a kind woman, and she doesn’t have to try to be friendly, it is in her spirit to be so.  She is glad to talk about life in Russia, the past and the now.  She tells us a lot about her grandparents, her family and what life was like when they were students in the times of the Soviet Union.  She is the kind of person you want to have as your next door neighbor.

Albert never seems to tire of trying his best to be graceful.  He tells us about his work, his doctoral classes, and we learn why doctors want to be surgeons in Russia.  He talks about his family and he drives to where they lived as teenagers.   Every moment during our visit he tries to help us see, taste, and feel life in Kazan.  
In the years that we have been communicating on the internet, his English has improved immensely.   I can remember skyping them and Albert had to stop and think of the correct words, or how to say something.  Not anymore! He has worked really hard to learn English.  Now he speaks without having to process languages back and forth.  This is a real skill.  Albert could live in America without language problems.  Alfiya is also competent in English   She is also learning Spanish.  Their knowledge of English has helped us to know them better and helped our friendship grow.   I think America should adopt them.

House of Lenin (Student)
After picking up their American travel visas, Albert drove while Alfiya navigated to the home of Lenin who spent one year in Kazan studying to be a lawyer.  Albert admitted that he had never been to this house aswe walked to the gate for photos.  I never thought that Lenin had lived here, I am  clueless on Lenin in the first place.  
Lenin’s body can still be seen in the Kremlin in Moscow.  I was there some years ago, and he looks like he could just sit up and walk away.  It looks quite a bit like the movie Snow White, where she is under a glass cover.  I don’t know how they do that, nor does anyone else, as it is a secret.  I would like to see George Washington like this.  

Colorful Choices
One of our final excursions is to a supermarket.  Albert knows that I always make it a point to visit a market in a foreign country.
Lots of Selection

 I want to see what people eat, what is available, how much fresh produce they have, the cheeses, the beers, and the pastries.  Pictured here is what we saw.

They had a great selection of foods.  The only thing I noticed is that it seemed that the produce area was smaller than I expected.  They had a a whole counter of imported cheeses, multiple shelves of beers, mostly from out of Russia, and lots of meats, such as what you see here.  It was difficult to decide which photos to use.

 Look, Frito Lay is there!
America moves in to grab a part of the Russian economy.
Can you believe that in the middle of Russia you would see this display?  Come On!
BTW Frito Lay made its move into Turkey several years ago and is now doing the same in Italy, as is Doritos.
Now we know that the Russian people are beginning to snack!  What company is next to travel far?

More Food Shots.
Dumplings To Go

Can You Believe...Cheetos!
Gracious Tour Guides
There are moments in one’s life that shine.  Being allowed to know Albert and Alfiya in their home is one of those.   I am sure that it was not easy for them to accept us, as we only knew each other by messages and Skype Videos.  However, all that apprehension was blown away by super hospitality and graciousness.  We are blessed with such good friends in Albert and Alfiya.   I hope that they will visit us soon.

I also hope that this blog post has opened your world to see real people, the good people of the modern city of Kazan.