Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Manao Thai: Restaurant Review

Manao Thai Menu (click to enlarge)
I’m eager to return to Thailand for two of the same reasons why I’ll soon return to Manao Thai Restaurant: great food and endearing, gentle people.

I feel good when I support hardworking young people who pursue their dreams. Ekkachai Sakkayasukkalawong (a.k.a Chef Chew) recently started his new Sellwood Neighborhood restaurant in a city that is crowded with many Thai restaurants, some of which are very good. We struggled with the menu because there were many items we wanted to try. Would the khao soi taste like the khao soi we loved during our visits to Chiang Mai and other places in Thailand? But we wanted som tam and sticky rice. And we wanted the pork dish on the specials menu, and the seared chicken thighs marinated in Thai herbs with the sweet chili sauce. Because nothing on the menu costs more than $11.00 we decided to get three dishes, but not the khao soi. Not this time.

Unlike the chain restaurants, the menu does not rate the hotness or spiciness of the dishes. That’s a good thing, because the food is seasoned to order, so we could wimp out with “mild +.”

So the verdict? The chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender, very flavorful, and the sweet chili sauce was more sweet than spicy. The pork and som tam, also, were terrific. And the rice? I love rice. Both the sticky rice and jasmine rice hit the spot.

On the way out, I nodded a “kap-kun-krap,” to the sweet woman who said good bye, and she responded with a huge smile and an enthusiastic “kap-kun-kaaa.”

We wish them well. Better still, we’ll return soon.

Manao Thai on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nicholas Restaurant Reev-Ku

Frigid breeze enters;
Huge steaming pita helps.
Shawarma good.



Nicholas on Urbanspoon

Swans visit Trout Lake

(Click photo to enlarge)

Creek outruns cold
Iced spider webs sparkle
Tundra swans bask






A few other photos here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

J & M Cafe: Restaurant Review

J&M Cafe has a great logo: A crowned pig head with wings. The interior space is airy, pleasant and orderly, with exposed brick walls up to the second floor, which is supported by huge old-growth beams. The atmosphere is cordial and very relaxed. You serve yourself coffee and water.

Despite the pig logo, one is not required to eat bacon, homemade pork chorizo, or crispy pork-cornmeal sausage glazed with maple syrup. You can deprive yourself and go with the tofu scramble, lox and bagels, or, if you just want to watch everyone else pig out, eat the ten-grain hot cereal. The different scrambles include different cheeses and are delicious. Last Saturday, the room was full, but the wait was very short.

J & M Cafe is a pleasant place to start your day with a friend, a newspaper, cup of coffee and good food that someone else cooks for you. What more can you ask from a breakfast place?

J&M Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Irving Street Kitchen - Review

Irving Street Kitchen (ISK) is the Portland outpost for three men who operate three restaurants in San Francisco. ISK fits the San Francisco and Pearl District mold of urbane and urban, with eye-catching, interior decorator touches that make the cavernous, brick-exposed old loading dock interesting. How about milk bottle chandeliers? Or a few booths with privacy curtains? We had a table for nine sectioned off by low bookcases, giving us a sense of coziness, yet allowing us to see if any fashionable people walk in.

Fried chicken and mashed potatoes highlights the down-to-earth menu options. The charcuterie, which included duck prosciutto and rabbit pâté sits on the other end of the continuum. And that about summarizes it: Southern food, such as ham, collard greens, and jambalaya is the counterpoint to something like butternut squash risotto or salmon. I found the happy middle with a whole trout, cooked just right, wrapped in pancetta (which stuck, inextricably, onto the skin). It was very good, but, perhaps, the chef might have put more seasoning inside of the fish. Don’t forget to ask for ISK’s terrific bread.

My brother asked for an alteration to a dish or something off-menu. “No way,” said the kind waiter, which made me believe that there were no chefs on duty, only cooks. Contrast that with the Stephanie Inn, which asks in advance if anyone has food restrictions and then is willing to do cartwheels to make sure you are happy.

ISK has an interesting wine gimmick, which, no doubt, also increases profit margins: wine right out of the barrel and into a big jar, to be poured into your glass.

ISK is a good restaurant, not a brilliant restaurant. The lowbrow food on the menu is overpriced. ISK can be quite a scene, especially on First Thursday. Now, after my second visit, I’d say that perhaps your best option is to hang out at the bar for the atmosphere, drink a glass of barrel wine, and order a side of cornbread and butter if you’re in bubba-mode or sautéed kale with garlic if your feeling Pearl.

Irving Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thankful for so much.

"A picture is worth 1,000 words."

Here are some pictures from Thanksgiving weekend that remind me of all of my many blessings.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jake's Famous Crawfish? Skip it.

Jake's Famous Crawfish on Urbanspoon

A gift certificate got me into Jake's for the first time in a few years. Same ol' menu, except, "The steelhead is now wild," according to the waitress.

I had the fish. What fish? Trust me, when it is smothered in butter, salt, and pepper, it does not matter. It all tastes the same. When my face started getting flushed from the high sodium content, I wished they'd given me a feather and directions to a vomitorium. Honestly, the deep-fried gator at Gatorworld in Florida offers better seafood than this Portland landmark.

But never mind my opinion. Jake’s is always packed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bar Avignon

Bar Avignon on Urbanspoon

Avignon is a small city in France with a long, rich history. Bar Avignon a small restaurant in Portland with a long wine list that includes many French wines. The food, fortunately, is fresh, local Northwest, which is much more to my liking than French food. I suppose that’s why the owners named it Bar Avignon and not Restaurant Avignon.

On this chilly, black November night, Bar Avignon’s warm, soft lighting welcomed diners. The wall of wine bottles and the chalkboard admonition -- “I will not drink bad wine. I will not drink bad wine. . . . [a la Bart Simpson] –- make patrons forget that BA serves liquor, too. Background music remained in the background, and did not force loud conversation. The long bar transects almost the entire space and with tables along the edge. The clientele consisted mostly of nice-looking people in their 30s through 50s.

The food menu, although somewhat short, made our choices difficult, especially after we had a chance to see what others were eating. The delicious-sounding “Autumn vegetables with fig-hazelnut salsa” did not disappoint. The seared tuna with white bean puree was very tasty, but, even for a small plate, was VERY small. The entrees, however, are full-portioned and all looked good. BA offers one of each basic category: chicken, pork, pasta, beef, and seafood. We shared the chicken, which was moist and flavorful.

A thumbs up for Bar Avignon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Restaurant Review: Gubanc's Pub in Lake Oswego

Consistent value sums up Gubanc’s, with good food, good prices, and professional servers
Gubanc's Pub on Urbanspoon
I drove past Gubanc’s 200+ times and never noticed it until a friend picked it for dinner about 10 years ago. It just blends into the other places along Lower Boone’s Ferry Road in Lake Grove. Consistency applies to the décor, too, which is a time capsule for 1970s Oregon: wood, smoked glass and ferns. Generally, the clientele is over age 40, too, and Gubanc’s is always busy for lunch and dinner.

The food is satisfying. Gubanc’s menu retains customer favorites, plus it offers a daily menu for something seasonal or new. The menu is pretty comprehensive, with fish, meat, poultry, soups. . . , and everything just fine. You will not rave to your friends about the artistry of presentation or a creative mélange of unique flavors, but the food always tastes fresh and is well prepared. I’ve never had a bad meal there in over 20 visits.

We go to Gubanc’s when we to relax and talk over our day, not for a special night out. If you want a good meal and if your dining companion is all the entertainment you want, then Gubanc's might be for you.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Three Perfect Days in the San Francisco Bay Area

I'd been meaning to visit San Francisco for some time. It'd been about 20 years. Now, we have a dear friend who lives in The City. With the Oregon Ducks scheduled for the Pac 12's biggest game of the season, the pull was too strong to resist a three-day weekend down south.

Friday, we walked miles around town, including past the tourist sites, which I'd wholly recommend skipping. You know the places: Chinatown stores, Fisherman's Wharf, and even the Buena Vista bar. I do not like crowds. I dislike crowds of tourists even more, although, it was fun to see comrades in Duck gear. An art / artifact gallery in the old Frank Lloyd Wright building on Maiden Lane near Union Square might have been the highlight of the day because of the interesting things inside. Breakfast at Sears is a tourist tradition and exemplifies the “old” San Francisco of dark wood, mini-tiled floors, and rich foods. There is a lot of shopping around Union Square, but we only hit a few stores. Down the road, just before the Chinatown gate, we stopped into a store full of big bright things. Inside, was a con artist trying to pass off made-in-China glass as fine Murano works of art. He was good, and I was gullible, but not quite naive enough. On the other hand, I COULD have purchased a lamp priced at $8,600 for a mere $200 . . . .

Better to spend money on an excellent Friday night dinner at La Mar, a Peruvian restaurant that features a variety of cebiches and "causas," (which are little columns of mashed potatoes topped with something special, whether it is tuna or crab or avocado, plus sauces) and other seafood.
Pisco is the Peru’s national booze, and La Mar mixes up a delicious Pisco Sour. What better way to spend an evening than to enjoy the company of people over great food and beverage? Local intelligence, thanks to Denise, is key to selecting a great restaurant.


Saturday, Denise walked us along Embarcadero to the Farmers' Market at the Ferry Building. Food vendors, outside, and restaurants, inside, offer breakfast and lunch. Even in November, there were several good-looking fresh-picked stands along with the "un-fresh" items such as devilishly sweet smoked salmon. Baked goods inside and out, plus cheeses and many other delights make a Saturday visit to the Ferry Building a hazard to one's dieting.




Then, down to The Farm to see the big football game.
Walking around the shaded grove where tailgaters had been partying for hours, we saw a very strong Oregon contingent. It seemed like almost as many fans wore Duck green as Cardinal red. In the sold out stadium, both sides nervously awaited the start of the game. Oregon's creativity, gutsy play calling, and big-play athletes on offense and defense tore the heart out of Stanford fans, who started the day with a chance to compete for a national championship, but went home knowing the Cardinal will not even win the Pac 12 conference.

Sunday lived up to its name: No fog, clear skies, and a temperature around 60 degrees. Once again, a great part of the day was a great meal with Denise: dim sum at Yank Sing, which people "in the know" tout as the best dim sum downtown. Certainly, it was the best I've had. Yank Sing is a busy place in a modern office tower. Many patrons plus many servers equals many food options, and they are all hot and fresh out of the kitchen.

Reluctantly, we pushed away from the table and rolled down to the car to continue our tour of the city, which included a quick stop for chocolate at Tcho (a local chocolate maker) before a look-see at Crissy Field (top photo), the former airstrip turned beach park with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Then, off to a quick view of the Pacific Coast before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to enjoy a stroll in Sausalito. It was truly a gorgeous day, with big views of the San Francisco Bay ornamented with many sailboats.

All in all, a great weekend: Best friends, best foods, beautiful scenery and classic college football. (I posted a few more pictures here.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Oregon v. Stanford Preview & Prediction

When Oregon visits Stanford on Saturday, a streak will end. Stanford has the longest winning streak in big-time college football at 17. Oregon has won 18 consecutive conference games. The winner wins the Pac 12. If Stanford wins, it might play for the national championship. With so much at stake, ESPN will use its Game Day program to focus the eyes of the football nation on The Farm in Palo Alto, California.

Both teams, by turns, have looked great but beatable over the past few weeks. In it’s last game, Oregon State tested Stanford more than the 38-13 score would indicate. Once again, Stanford’s best wide receiver, Chris Owusu suffered a concussion. (If I were his dad, I’d urge him to retire. He’s suffered too many concussions.) Also missing for are two tight ends who have caught many of Andrew Luck’s passes.

By contrast, Oregon’s starting quarterback and best runner recently returned from injury. But Oregon’s offense did not impress me against Washington, despite the 34-17 score. Although Darron Thomas has performed brilliantly at times, at other times, he looks shaky, especially in the first couple possessions of big games. Oregon never quite replaced its clutch receiver from last year, Jeff Maehl. Against Washington, a few drops kept Oregon’s score down. Also, Oregon continues to have some issues with turnovers.

I focus on the offense, because offense dominated the last two meetings. In 2009, Stanford won 51-42 with methodical, run-first drives. 52 runs plus 20 passes for Stanford added up to 505 yards. Oregon’s 570 yards of offense made for an entertaining game. In 2010, the teams combined for 1144 yards of offense and 83 points in Oregon’s 52-31 home win. Perhaps the sad turning point in the 2010 game was another Chris Owusu knock out. He was out cold and dropped the ball before dropping to the ground. Oregon scooped it up and turned the game around.

Stanford will again rely on the run as much as possible to keep Oregon’s big-play athletes off the field. Stanford will march down the field and score. (It averages 44 points per regulation Pac-12 game). Oregon’s defense is looking pretty good and is pretty healthy (despite the absence of All-American Cliff Harris).

Oregon also averages about 44 p.p.g. against Pac-12 competition. Oregon will score on special teams to make up for whatever fumble or interception it gives away.

This is a tough game for picking a winner. As of this writing, the betting line is Stanford – 3.5 points. Three points is the home field advantage. I think Stanford’s loss of three pair of receiving hands will neutralize its home field advantage. In my mind, however, that only means that the slight tip in Stanford’s favor is gone, making the outcome a coin-flip. In Jeff Sagarin’s computer schemes, the predictor rating ranks Stanford above Oregon.

Oregon has too many game breakers. Final score: Oregon wins: 44 – 42.

P.S.: Look for the fun side show between mascots: the Stanford tree and Puddles, the Oregon duck. Here’s the tree taking care of the Virgina Tech Turkey. (Come on, who can’t beat up a turkey.) The Oregon Duck is known for Harley riding and a viscous smack-down of a Cougar.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Restaurant Review: Wafu


Wafu is the Japanese-inspired restaurant on 31st and SE Division. It occupies a long narrow space with a big group table, seats at the bar, seats around the kitchen and a few other tables. Big lantern lamps, pictured above, try to set the atmosphere.

Tonight, Wafu, dared to offer ceviche with Thai spices. I say "dared," because Wafu is a block away from Pok Pok, the very popular Thai restaurant. Pok Pok is so popular that it has an annex for people to wait. So, right in Pok Pok’s back yard, this two-month upstart restaurant offers something with Thai flavors. My verdict: Wafu’s Thai beat Pok Pok. The fresh herbs and chiles were perfectly balanced: a full-mouthed flavor without any too-hot burn. Also, the fish (tonight it was Mahi-Mahi) seemed much higher quality than the food I had eaten at Pok Pok.

Wafu’s gimmick is ramen noodles, but it is not the ramen you survived on during college. It is heartier, and Wafu offers choices of broths and “toppings,” such as pork, chicken or mushrooms. Here’s the menu. Additionally, Wafu posts its daily specials on the wall.
Wafu’s bartender was a real professional. He knew how to mix a cocktail with flare, shaking it cold high over his shoulder.

My recommendation? Next time your friends drag you to Pok Pok and Pok Pok tells you to wait at the Wiskey Soda Lounge, walk just another 20 yards or so to Wafu. The food is better, and you will be treated more as a welcomed guest than another number.
Wafu on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bijou Cafe

Bijou Cafe on Urbanspoon Bijou Cafe is a breakfast-time institution. I’ve enjoyed many breakfasts in the light, airy space. It’s a low-key place to relax, despite the thousands of power breakfasts that have occurred there over the decades. The foods tend toward comfort food, with their muffins, pancakes, and omelets. Today, however, we tried it for lunch.

I could have had breakfast at 1:00 p.m., and, sadly, I should have. Bijou’s lunch menu is somewhat limited. Al’ had a fresh salad with chicken, which she enjoyed. I had the chicken enchilada, which was not so great. The flavor was kind of bland; the fragmentary tortilla was hard, almost crispy. My biggest issue was the rubbery chicken.

The friendly server attended to my cup of coffee. The restaurant remains a pleasant place to visit. But, I suppose, there’s a reason why people wait in line for breakfast, while there were plenty of tables free when we arrived for lunch.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dear Ol' Dad

Most everything has "good news" and "bad news" components. The good news is that dad does not seem to age. The bad news is that if I inherited those genes, then I better keep working; None of this "live for today" mentality if I've only hit middle age at 53.


It was great to visit with Lorie and enjoy the company of Dad and Gloria. We stopped by the beach and different places in town. I got beaten soundly in Phase 10, and we enjoyed a walk downtown. But mostly, we just talked. That's what why we made the trip, just to see him, see how they are doing, and make sure all is as well.

But, dammit, be careful when climbing ladders, working on roofs, and careening around town in the van. ("Fasten your seatbelt.") I'd tell him to act his age, but there are at least three ages: chronological, physical, and that never-grown-up adolescent.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Restaurant Review: Kin

Kin on Urbanspoon“That is excellent!” “Wow!” “I can’t think of better food in Portland.” Those were among the spontaneous reviews coming out of our mouths after the food went in at Kin.

Kin is a chef-owned restaurant, and chef Kevin Shikami has a top reputation, having worked in Paris and San Francisco and having owned restaurants in Chicago. Maybe being the first diners on a quiet Tuesday evening gave us his undivided attention and best efforts. Although the menu changes daily, we had some of the regular items: tuna tartar, steamed buns with pork, salmon, and deserts. All five items exceeded expectation.

I’ll skip to the buns. The last time I had steamed buns was in a Chinese restaurant, which were baseball-sized bread with a speck of something inside. By contrast, the “buns” at Kin are better called pork belly burgers. The buns have a softer and more porous texture and much better flavor than those buns we get at Chinese restaurants. Also, they were cut like a hamburger bun. Inside was a thick cut of pork, which, again, was flavorful and cooked to perfection. We were tempted to pick up the plate to lick every drop of sauce, but, instead, I used some bread. I can imagine returning to Kin after work for a drink and the buns / sliders.

Yes, we’ve all eaten salmon 5,000 times in Portland. There were other more adventurous items on the menu. But despite this, the salmon did not just provide us food on a “school night.” It was a real treat. Unfortunately, I do not have the vocabulary to tell you how or why the sauce was a cut above. I can tell you that it was very tender inside and firm outside. I can tell you that the greens underneath were flavorful, and the little side of a so-called spring roll looked and tasted better than any spring roll I’d had before. It was indisputably fresh, not hard-packed, and filled with chunks of salmon.

The two deserts we had were also top-flight: artful, creative and delicious.

Just go to Kin. Keep this chef happy so he does not leave us in Portland like he left Chicago. I suspect his departure disappointed many Chicagoans.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bamboo Sushi

Culinary correctness. Portland Kosher. Taliban sushi.

Maybe none of the above is a fair summary of Bamboo Sushi, but the terms come to mind when every other page of its menu notes another certification Bamboo Sushi has earned. These are not awards for culinary skill. Bamboo Sushi does not brag about James Beard Awards or kudos from the Oregonian or Willamette Week. Instead, it is all about culinary correctness, Portland's version of Kosher, including the first ever Marine Stewardship Council certified sushi restaurant in the world; Business for Environmentally Sustainable Tomorrow; Green Source Business; Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch; Salmon Nation; KidSafe Seafood; Green Restaurant Association; Blue Ocean Institute.

The menu also assumes that diners don’t know how to eat sushi. It contains a full page on “Sushi Etiquette,” with directions to eat fish from least fat content to most fat content, “don’t cross chopsticks when you set them down,” use fingers when eating nigiri and eat in one bite, “two at most.” Can you imagine Noble Rot instructing us on how to swirl and sniff wine?

Despite the pretentiousness, I really like Bamboo Sushi. The food and cocktails are very good. (Although, in contrast to its claim to sustainability, I did not see any Oregon vodka among the vodka bottles behind the bar.) It offers a variety of sakes, if you are into that. Eating off the happy hour menu is a delight. The ambience is great, as it gets a good mix of people, from hip and young to older people who appreciate the modern, cool, decor, which fits the Japanese and Japanese-inspired menu.

Seriously, I’m very happy to know that I’m not participating in the destruction of fisheries. (I'm less happy to be reminded about the problem when relaxing over dinner). I figure that any place that is so particular about what it purchases will provide me with fresh and healthful food. So far, after three visits to Bamboo Sushi, I think food is delicious and creative. Bamboo Sushi lives up to its slogan of “sustainable delectable possible.”

I’m not the only one who agrees that the food is delectable. One of my visits was on a quiet Sunday night. Yet, we still had to wait for a long time because others found the food and atmosphere compelling.

I mention all of the certifications and partnerships because the restaurant, itself, does. It is so "Portland" to aspire to be the number one, very best, top-of-the-heap environmental good citizen (in a very humble way, of course).Bamboo Sushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 10, 2011

Restaurant Review: Trout Lake Country Inn

Restaurant: Trout Lake Country Inn

Type of Food: American

Date: October 7, 2011

In 6 words or fewer: Good Food and Good People.

Review: Trout Lake, Washington is magically beautiful, no more so than at the Trout Lake Country Inn, with it's view of Mt. Adams to the East and Sleeping Beauty to the North. The Country Inn has gone through a variety of operators since I've been going there in 2005. Recently, the current operator, Danica, bought the historic hall, and the trend is in a very positive direction.

I had the roasted chicken, with garlic mashed potatoes and collards. The chicken was cooked to perfection and would have been very flavorful even without the one strip of bacon on top. The collards and potatoes also hit the spot. It was such a huge mound of food on a plate for $12 that I passed on the biscuit.

They can cook, and they are eager to please. Now that they are not just renting the Inn, I expect to see them improve it. Although, I, personally, have enjoyed the ambience of 104 year old walls, antique bar stools, and posters someone put up decades ago and never took down.

Trout Lake Country Inn on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Hike in Indian Heaven

A muddy trail did not dampen our spirits on this cool, Autumn day in Heaven. Indian Heaven, that is. A wilderness area within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, near Trout Lake, Washington. For my first time, we took the East Crater trail up. It's a gentle climb, without the steepness (or great vista) of the Cultus Creek approach to Junction Lake, our destination.

Dogs Molly and Henry joined Dale, Randi and me. The dogs thoroughly enjoyed the hike, too. The colors are coming in, and a few huckleberries clung on for whoever wanted them. A bit of scat on the trail indicates that the bears are loving the berries.

Here are a few photos.

10/8/2011

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bed & Breakfast & Dinner & Music at Kirkit Pension, Avanos, Turkey

Avanos, Turkey is not the number one place for tourists to stay when visiting the Cappadocia region. It is a normal small town, with appliance stores, markets, mosque, restaurants for locals, etc. Perhaps that's why we liked it. Avanos is known for its red clay soils, from which people have made pots for millenia. There is a concentration of such tourist stores in town, mostly for day-trippers. We lodged in Avanos for three nights, each time, we ate dinners right where we stayed, at Kirkit Pension.

The owners of Kirkit Pension have been in the travel business for over 20 years. Kirkit Voyage tailors tours or trips to a person's desires. Want a hiking guide? They can do it. For us, they arranged a rental car, signed us up on a balloon ride, and for a day tour of the underground city and other local sites. They are smart to vertically integrate: they get the tourists in on tours or other services, offer them a place to stay, try to sell them rugs in the store in town, sell them food and drinks, and will even do laundry in house instead of sending out the work. We had a chance to talk with two of the owners Yasim and Osman. Both are very accommodating in at least three languages: French, Turkish, and English.

During and after dinners, Kirkit Pension has classical Turkish musicians play, and the cook tries to get people to dance. Yasim explained that the musicians play as long as people stay around. The first night, a top drummer in the country was staying at the Pension, and he jammed with the regular trio. You could tell that the pro from Instanbul raised the level of performance for the group, which was quite good without him, as in the following video:


Here's a few seconds of the drummer:

Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea

Five years ago, Allyson hiked the Lycian Way and looked down upon the beautiful boats anchored in sheltered Mediterrean bays as people swam in the crystalline aquamarine waters. Last week, she finally stepped onto a boat, which motored up the shore from Cirali to one of those bays below the rocky cliffs.

Under bright, clear skies, we jumped and dove into the waters, enjoying the perfect water temperature. We marveled at the how pleasant a place can be.

More photos here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chimera: Eternal Flames in Cirali near Olympos, Turkey


Cirali, Turkey's beach is about 3 or 4 kilometers long on the Mediterranean Sea. The water is clear and perfect swimming temperature. At the south end lies the ruins of Olympos, where people worshipped Hephaestrus, the fire god. Walk to the north end of the beach and up the hill (3.75TL entry fee) to see why. The Chimera, the eternal flames.

We arrived after sunset, while there was still enough light to walk up the wide, rocky path without flashlights,(which one can rent at the entrance). Under natural light, the path is pretty good, with a lot of tall steps that might challenge short legs. It took more care to walk down after dark.

At the top, sure enough, there's a rocky slope with little fires scattered up the hillside. Some barely burn; others blast out pretty well, providing heat to those nearby. Although I comprehend how natural gas could seep out of rock, I do not understand the source of ignition that could keep these fires burning for thousands of years.

Tips for travelers: Both roads lead to the entrance. For fun, bring marshmallows. My iPhone 4 with the flashlight app provided enough light to get back down the hill. It also shot better photographs than the my Nikon Coolpix, and this video too:

The places are ruined.

Why do busloads of tourists from all over the world visit ruins and pose for photographs like idiots (see above)? I don't know, but here are my thoughts upon visiting Ephesus, Aphrodesius and Olympos.

Ephesus was a great world city, with a population of 250,000. Like many ancient sites, it has the great sports stadium and a smaller odeon for civic debates. In that respect, nothing has changed: more people enjoy sports than debates. Because of St Paul's visit in about 52 A.D. and his writings, Christians enjoy walking the same streets of stone. Ephesus's main street was what struck me most.

The great library facade (pictured at top with the tourist), dominates the street, but what we found most interesting was the "Terrace Homes," which were the equivalent of New York Co-ops on Central Park: Lifestyles of the rich and long dead. Work continues on restoring the marble walls and mosiac floors. Some of the brick walls, covered with plaster, still have the paintings. The delicacy of the art and the taste of the owners survives these millenia later.

Aphrodesius has no great harbor to account for its founding and growth, which was more modest than Ephesus. It did have the temple of Aphrodite. Celebratory orgies might have been enough to attract and keep people there, at least until the Christians shut down that stuff after 500 A.D. The temple is not much to look at these days, but the three stadiums: sport, civics and theater, are in terrific shape. The museum at Aphrodesius displays gorgeous marble sculpture. The skill and delicacy of the work amazes. Earthquakes caused the fall of Aphrodesius and Ephesus. No FEMA to help rebuild.


Olympos lies just off a pleasant and partially sheltered beach on the Mediterranean Sea. Freshwater streams flow through the site (pictured above), which is overgrown. It would make for a beautiful hike even without the ruins, but the ruins make it look like something out of Indiana Jones. Pirates had much to do with the fall of Olympos.

My thoughts upon seeing formerly great cities and considering rise and fall of civilizations include the importance of wise & beneficent leadership and how necessary it is to deter pirates and invaders. It seems as though people have not changed over time in terms of appreciation of art and archeticture, the desire to build or plunder, and devotion to beliefs. We, in the United States, have less appreciation for the grand sweep of history than those who step over fallen granite columns for their Sunday on the beach, as they do here in Cirali, Turkey, site of Olympos.

More photos here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Driving Rental Cars In Turkey

Driving in foreign countries can be enjoyable, interesting, challenging, and, we wonder, whether it can lead to an Interpol arrest warrant.

We've twice rented a car so far on this visit in Turkey. The rental process, itself, differed greatly from what we experience in U.S. airports. Both times, a person met us as we walked out of the terminal with the car. One time, we dropped the guy off. This second time, we drove to the cramped manufactured structure several kilometers away at a big gas station where we had to conduct business outside because there was no room inside.

Almira rentals provided us a car that is kind of a beater. Well, it IS a beater: worn seats, not the best tires, and a chipped windshield. When it rained, we learned that the windshield wipers need replacing. Although we had a pre-arranged deal, it was in Euros. But they could not take a credit card for Euros and wanted to charge us in Turkish Lira at an exchange rate that we questioned. Eventually, we negotiated a cash dollar exchange rate we liked better.

We've noticed that some of the street signs seem to be aspirational. People sometimes roll right through stop signs or turn right against the no right turn sign. In fact the right turn violation we witnessed occurred directly in front of a “Polis” car, which ignored it. A couple of times, on not-busy divided highways, we've seen people drive against the traffic on the shoulder, saving miles and gas compared to if they actually drove the correct direction and made a u-turn.

Driving is a great way to get off the beaten path and see great expanses of the country. Turkey has very diverse lands. Today, we drove through broad valleys with high hillsides covered in olive trees and conifers. Yesterday, we stayed at a place that looked like it was set in the Tuscany hillsides, with terraced hillsides covered with fruit and olive orchards.

Unfortunately, we do not always comprehend the local practices. In the little town of Urgup, we parked near the main square. When we returned, we had a slip that looked like a parking charge or ticket for 13.00 TL, about $9. When we turned the car in, we asked the guy about it, and he seemed to indicate it was no problem. (Although we're not always sure that those with whom we speak fully comprehend what we are asking.) Yesterday, when we approached the toll road on ramp, we took the side that, APPEARED to have a booth. But it was just a machine for people who had the frequent use cards, which we did not have. We figured we'd have some explaining to do when it was time to exit. When we reached the next big toll area, again, there was no obvious place to go and no people in booths. After slowing down to try to figure out best option, and hoping no truck would slam into our beatermobile, we went through the place with no wooden barrier. The siren shot off, but only momentarily. Dutifully, we pulled off to see if someone would approach so we could start our explaining. When no one appeared, we drove off. We'll see if a camera got the license and will trace to us. Fortunately, we did not pay by credit card, so, perhaps, the crappy rental car business will not be able to charge us.

I assume Interpol does not deal with parking violations and stealing a few miles on a toll road. So, we can focus, instead, on dealing with the traffic and the side streets. One narrow lane last evening provided some entertainment. It was very steep and paved with slate. Allyson got about half way up when gravity exerted more force than beatermobile, with its tires could counter, kind of like trying to climb an icy hill. But we survived that and a later place where she did about a 10-point turn to get on our way.

Part of the fun of traveling are the little unexpected adventures in between the hoped-for highlights.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Layers in Cappadocia

Cappadocia is all about layers. Layers of rock and layers of history stretching back thousands of years. The region is known for its striking landscape and the people who made their homes under ground and within the rock faces and fairy chimineys.

Dueling volcanos many miles apart laid different types of sediment and rock over the millenia, with the hardest, the basalt, on top. Erosion of the softer stone underneath creates, in places, conical towers or even formations that look like columns with a basalt cap protecting the softer"tufa" layer underneath from the rain. Just about everywhere you turn, the cliff faces look like a swiss cheese of holes, some rectangular, some rounded. In towns, some of the dug-out places are still in use. Often, a later layer of civilization is evidenced by cut stone buildings in ruins that blend forward to concrete and contemporary buildings that could be in a city or suburb.

Let's go back to the Hittites, some 4,000 years ago, who built an underground city instead of a fortress. After the Hittites, left, others found the two-level deep development and expanded it to seven levels. Need a shelf? Carve one out of the wall. Need a place to make wine? Dig a shaft to drop grapes from ground level, dig out a crushing bin with a hole leading to a collecting area for the juice. Want communication? Dig out tubes to shout down.

Goreme is the big tourist cite for cave dwelling, mostly because there's a concentration of ancient churches dug out of the hillsides. The painted depictions of crosses, Jesus, St. Gabriel and others can still be seen. But, the "open air museum" is a bit too much, with tour busses dumping loads of international visitors.

Even along a river walk, we stopped to look into a dug out little church.

More impressive to me than Goreme was a cave monestary at Selime. The kitchen had this huge room a high ceiling tapered to a chimney to exhaust the smoke. Also carved in the kitchen (and in many places around the area) are "pigeon houses." Gotta love it. People valued pigeons for communication, fertilizer and as a food source. Maybe if people in cities developed better recipes for squab, they could get rid of their pigeon problems.

More photos here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sunrise over Cappadocia


We awakened at 4:30 a.m. to catch the van, that took us to the check in center, to catch another van, to get to the take off point for the balloon ride. Ballooning is a huge business here in Cappadocia, which is a good thing. That's because it's more fun and dramatic to see dozens of balloons in the air than just your own.




We thoroughly enjoyed our trip, which was with Atmosfer Balloons and with pilot Fatih Yilman. See more photos here.


Tips for travellers: If you have a choice, get in the balloon with the smaller basket and be the last one in. You want be on the outside for the least obstructions by other passengers. Also, earplugs are useful in case you end up under the blasting burner.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Istanbul Biennial

The inspiration for Istanbul's 12th Biennial is a modernist and policital work of a Cuban Puerto Rican artist. So, the works here are modern and political and ultra-leftist.
The media ranged from drawings, to video, to wood craft, to this representation of shotgun wave. One image that I found particularly compelling is Chelini's "Self with Better Half." Here, Chelini depicts how church tithing and oppression can drain the life out of a man, leaving him a mere shadow of the young man with dreams of conquest who he once was, and, instead, clinging desperately to his family.
One more picture for fun.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Istanbul v. U.S. Domes: You be the judge.

I'd say that is a look of skepticism on Allyson's face as we approach Hagia Sophia, and rightly so. Sophie, as I call her, is billed as this great dome, greatest on the face of God's good earth. But the evidence proves that the greatest domes are in the United States of America.

Let's compare, for example, Cowboy's Stadium in Texas, which is still part of the United States, despite the overwhelming opinion of those of us in Oregon, who wonder how peoples with such different political views can both be Americans. Jerry Jones built Cowboy's stadium, so we'll call it Jerry's dome.

Sophie's dome is tall. So big that our blessed Statute of Liberty could do jumping jacks inside. But Jerry's dome is taller, with a much bigger area underneath. Jerry's dome is retractable, but not Sophie's. Jerry's dome has air conditioning. Sophie's dome? Nope. You can buy a cold beer in the Texas dome, but you can't even find a water fountain within Sophie, although there is a little store outside. No food inside Sophie's dome; not even a $9 hotdog; no public toilets, either.

Sophie's defenders point out that Sophie's place has some old mosaics. I would concede that true fact. But here's the rest of that mosaic story. The mosaics are beat up. And other parts of the old church were defaced by the Sultans who turned it into a mosque. But more to the point of U.S. superiority, Jerry has something better than static depictions of a few images, he's got a humongo jumbotron that has ever-changing mosaics that that show football replays. Take that, Sophie.

Local Byzantine chauvinists, when confronted with this evidence, will start whining about "apples-to-apples" comparisons: Emperor Justinian built the Sophie Dome in 537 A.D. These fanatical local patriots started putting down United States by asking, "What have you Americans got from the year 537? Oooh, a sandal woven of grass. I'm so impressed." (I don't think they really were impressed. I think they were disrespecting our historical record of leading sustainable lives for 10,000 years or more.)

I responded, "Did you hear me whining about bad officiating when Oregon lost to Auburn?" The blank stare on the face of the locals made me think they did not understand my reference to the 2011 College Football National Championship, which highlights their parochialism. So I had to return the subject to domes, "Even the Detroit Lions play in a superior dome in Michigan." Again, they shook their heads, as if I were the one who could not accept the facts.

Anyway, I come to a foreign country to try to be a personal Ambassador and build bridges to foreign peoples, but all I find are local cheerleaders who stubbornly cling to preconceived notions of their own superiority. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.