After our cruise through the Greek Islands, the Azamara Journey arrived in Kusadasi, a popular holiday resort for the Turks and gateway port for the archaeological site of Ephesus. While most of the guests would undoubtedly be taking a tour of Ephesus, I had visited a few years ago and feared that the heat would be blistering. For something different we opted for one of the Insider Access excursions, which promised a relaxing day learning about Turkish food and culture.
On the way our guide, Elif, reminisced about the Kusadasi that she remembered as a child when she would stay in her grandmother’s summer house by the sea. In those days it was a quiet fishing town, famous for its peach trees and olive groves which have long since disappeared to make way for holiday apartments.
In winter, she told us, the summer visitors all leave and Kusadasi becomes a quiet place, but in summer the seafront is overflowing with Turkish families and the marina boasts expensive yachts and the shops and restaurants that go with them.
Our land discovery (as Azamara call their cruise excursions) was A Taste of Turkish Country Life and we arrived by coach to be greeted at a family house set in gardens by Asli, our Turkish host who ran these tours with her mother who had been a tour guide. We were welcomed with a glass of hot Turkish tea in a glass, “curved like a belly dancer” which is the custom wherever you go in Turkey. “If you stay longer than 5 minutes, in a shop or a home, you will be offered a glass of tea”, Asli told us. We observed how the tea was served from a double level teapot, with strong tea in the top which was topped up with hot water from the second pot below. The Turks drink tea several times a day and it should always be served piping hot, or your guests will ask you for a fresh cup.
While we sipped our hot, sweet tea, we were able to watch the cook sitting in the floor making gozleme, a popular Turkish snack, which you will often see being made in cafes and street stalls. The Gozleme is like a Turkish savoury crepe, with a ball of dough being flattened and stretched then cooked on a hot-plate. There are many different fillings, but the traditional one that we tried is with soft cheese and herbs which are wrapped into the dough as it cooks – a delicious snack.
We were invited into the family home which was a modern house, designed for summer living and as a showcase of the most beautiful Turkish arts and crafts. Here Asli’s mother had brought together the best of Turkish crafts, in the carved stone fireplaces, the coloured marbles used in the bathrooms, the ornate wooden ceilings and the antique furniture and embroidered Suzani rugs and throws.
In the living rooms we could see the carved wooden chairs from Southern Turkey that had been used in a monastery and the stained glass windows that had been part of a mosque in Konya. Since Asil’s mother had been a tour guide, she had visited many parts of Turkey and admired these things, which had subsequently been given to her as a gift when no longer required. Even though the family had been furnishing the house for the last 12 years, it was still not finished, since the craftsmen who had the traditional skills were dying out and they had to wait their turn for things to be made for them.
As we sat outside, we were given a lesson in tying and wearing headscarfs like a Turkish women, since in each region of Turkey they would be tied in a different style. Although Turkey is a secular country, headscarfs are still widely worn, especially in the country, to protect the hair when working, cooking or to shield from the heat of the sun. A bride would have numerous colourful scarfs which she embroiders with a fine crochet edging in different designs.
Asil explained, that since a young married women would live in the same house as her mother in law, and it would be considered rude to speak out if she was unhappy with anything, there would be a scarf to express every mood. If you wear the colours of spring and summer, everything is happy in the house, but if you wear an edging of little peppers the message in your scarf is “Mother-in-law, you upset me today!”
We moved into the kitchen to learn how to make some typical Turkish dishes such as stuffed peppers, creamy lentil soup and a cooked carrot and yoghurt dip and even had a folder of the recipes to take home with us.
In Turkish when they saute garlic or carrots they talk about ‘killing’ the carrots and when they say ‘”is it dead?” that means it’s soft and perfectly cooked. We learned the Turkish grandmother’s secrets for making perfect Pilau rice that will keep your husband happy – cover the rice in hot water for 5 minutes to let the starch come out and then rinse it 7 times more. This is the trick for rice where every grain is perfectly separate and not sticky.
After watching how some of the dishes were made, we moved outside and learned how to stuff the small peppers with the rice mixture and how to roll the vine leaves and filo pastry to make small dolmes, the length of a finger. By now we were getting hungry and soon an array of dishes was laid out for us to try at lunch, all previously prepared by the cook to high Turkish standards. “I’m tired from doing all this cooking” joked one of the guests as we left off stuffing peppers and sat down to eat, ” We worked so hard!”
After lunch we moved into the shady seating area where we had started with glasses of tea, this time to try some sweet, black Turkish coffee which is supposed to help your digestion. We also had a fun ‘fortune-telling’ session from reading the coffee grounds, which is a skill passed down to women from their grandmothers. Elif, our guide turned each cup upside down and interpreted the patterns and shapes she could see in the coffee grounds, “don’t worry, we don’t tell you the bad stuff”, she joked. Of course I can’t reveal all except to say that I am a patient person and everything good will come to me if I wait and don’t lose heart!
After our enjoyable morning, learning all about Turkish food and customs, it was time to head back to the ship to relax before the next highlight of the day, our evening visit to Ephesus. Another reason I decided not to do the Ephesus tour in the heat of the day was because I knew that we were to be there for the AzAmazing evening that was included as part of the cruise. On every Azamara cruise, there is a special event like this for all the guests, designed to be a unique and memorable occasion that guests will be talking about long afterwards.
Ephesus is one of the highlights of coming to Kusadasi, and as guests of the cruise we arrived after closing time and had the place to ourselves. Our special concert wes held in the stone amphitheatre of the Odean, sitting on the ancient stones although luckily cushions were provided.
Ephesus was built in the 10th century BC and was a thriving commercial city in ancient times, where St John the Evangelist and St Paul preached and where Mary, the mother of Jesus lived at the end of her life. Although we could not walk around the whole site, we could see the two storey library down below us as the sun set behind the hill.
With cocktails in hand we settled down to listen to the Camera Izmir Orchestra with a guest harpist performing Handel’s harp concerto, then well known pieces by Bach and Mozart finishing with an entertaining Brahms Hungarian Dance that reminded me of those gypsy violinists I had seen in Budapest.
Listening to the music in the warm night air in such a special setting was truly magical and we felt that the promise of an AzAmazing evening had been fulfilled. As we returned to the ship, we could see families strolling along the seafront promenade and enjoying dinners in the restaurants around the marina. Soon Azamara Journey was sailing away and the coloured lights of Kusadasi were left behind as we headed for Istanbul.
About Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises is a small luxury cruise line with two ships; Azamara Journey that Heather and Guy sailed on and Azamara Quest, each with a capacity of 686 guests. The smaller ship size means you often visit destinations that larger ships can’t get into and the ships can dock in more central locations. The emphasis is on destination immersion; enjoying the destination to the full, arriving early and sailing late so that guests can enjoy nights and cool places ashore, with insider access programmes and a unique AzAmazing evening included in each cruise. No itinerary is the repeated and each year the ships visit different destinations around the world. Azamara is part of Royal Caribbean Cruise group. Visit the Azamara Club Cruises website more information about a Mediterranean luxury cruise like the one Heather and Guy enjoyed.
Joining your Azamara Club Cruise
Heather and Guy flew from London Heathrow to Athens and back from Istanbul using British Airways, although obviously each cruise is different in the best way to get there.
Heather used the Meet and Greet Parking Service booked through Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who offer airport parking at a range of airports across the UK as well as travel extras such as airport lounge booking and airport hotel stays.
Both flights and transfers from the airport to your cruise ship can be arranged through Azamara Cruises
Thanks to Azamara Club Cruises who hosted Heather and Guy for their 7 day Greek Island Cruise and to Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who provided their airport parking at Heathrow.
Read More about our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise
Sailing into Santorini – Day 1 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Windy Mykonos – Day 2 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Charming Patmos – Day 3 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Istanbul the golden – final stop on our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise
This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here
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