12 February 2016

The Duomo of Florence

The best place to start a tour of Florence is the Duomo. For one thing, it sits pretty much in the center of things and so it makes a great point of reference. While I've never found the interior to be very impressive, the exterior is undeniably stunning.

'Duomo' is the Italian word for cathedral. The actual name of the Duomo is Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the flowers) and was built between 1294 and 1436. The exterior is paneled in green, pink, and white marble. It wasn't until 1887 that the facade we see, dedicated to the Mother of Christ, was done. I this the only other building I've photographed as much was St. Vitus in Prague. Some might say that the exterior of the Duomo is extravagant and over done but I have to go with 'spectacular'.

We were in Florence over a weekend which meant I needed to go to Mass. And if you have to go to Mass in Florence you might as well go to the Duomo! Especially when you're like me and think all Masses should still be in Latin and you know that the Duomo has a Latin Mass at 10:30 on Sundays. It was so nice to hear that again. I can count on one hand the number of things I miss about DC but Latin Mass at St. Matthew's is one of them. In Istanbul I semi confidently follow Mass in Italian and, weirdly, stumble through Mass when it's in English. I haven't regularly, or purposefully, attended English language Mass in 12 years. Also I take linguistic exception to some of the new translations.


As with St. Peter's you can buy a ticket to visit the dome, which L and I didn't do. Stairs. A shame as I'm sure the view of the city would be amazing. Frankly though every time we passed the Duomo I was stunned all over by the exterior and couldn't even contemplate the view.

I feel like even if I hadn't seen anything else while in Florence the time I got to spend admiring this amazing building would still have made it worth the trip. L said that it "kicks the ass of Milan's Duomo". I've never been to Milan so I'll have to take her word on that; but it really rather does kick the ass out of the majority of churches I've seen I rather suspect she's right.

10 February 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Chamlija 2013 Cabernet & Cabernet

The first time I saw a Chamlija wine at Sensus there were only two or three of them. Now they are everywhere and I need to try them all!! Luckily Solera, La Cave, and Carrefour are getting into the game so I'm pretty well guaranteed to find a bottle of Chamlija where ever I go.

The Cabernet & Cabernet I picked up at Carrefour for...I don't remember how much. 40-something TL? 60-something? Not a vast fortune in any case. It's 45% each Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% of the dreaded Merlot; but since it's just 10% we'll forgive its inclusion.

In the glass it's more purple than red. The nose is berries, black raspberry, currant, cocoa, a little coffee, and leather. Initially I was blown away by the palate. Lots of leather up front, that was coming at me even before the fruits. This was a big, complex wine. Black fruits, black pepper, green bell pepper, and eucalyptus with medium tannins and medium acid. The fruit flavors drop off pretty quickly but the undertones hang out for a little while, especially the leather.

Before I sign off with the glowing recommendation I like to give to Chamlija I will say that after the Cabernet & Cabernet opened up I liked it less. It tasted hot and syrupy, not two of my favorite things in a wine. This does not in any way mean that I'm not going to enthusiastically open the other three-four bottles of Chamlija I have though!

08 February 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Çakmak

I recently read an article on Yabangee about a place to take your friend who won't shut up about Van Kahvaltı Evi. I still love me some Van Kahvaltı Evi but the author was not wrong about the draw of Çakmak's breakfast offerings. Located in Beşiktaş, the neighborhood next over from mine filled with popular cafes and bars but a place I've never explored, Çakmak seemed the perfect place to take some visitors who wanted to get out of Sultanahmet. 

Very unassuming from the outside, not all tarted up to attract the hipster breakfaster, Çakmak's fantastic food more than makes up for anything you might think missing from the simple, local decor. Coming in from the sleety cold of an Istanbul January we were greeted by a wall of warmth, hustled to a table, and had a large tea in front of us before we knew it.

That's the bal kaymak there in the middle.

We started with the big breakfast plate. While it may be called something different and/or have a slight variation of offerings in each cafe, these big plates are the foundation of Turkish breakfast. They usually contain some mix of: 3-4 local cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, tomato paste (sometimes sweet sometimes a little spicy), olives, butter, a jam or two, even Nutella on the occasion, lots of bread, and if you're lucky bal kaymak.

Çakmak's breakfast plate was pretty typical as far as thee offerings went but also included a nice dollop of  süzme which is a super thick, tangy yogurt. Where Çakmak's big plate distinguishes itself though is the magical bal kaymak. I've had bal kaymak at any number of places and sometimes buy kaymak to have at home but Çakmak's was something special. Bal is Turkish for honey and kaymak is this clotted cream-like deliciousness that has a consistency closer to butter. The two of them together are a combination made up of unicorn horns and angel feathers. Quality and quantity both very from cafe to cafe and Çakmak had both the most generous amount I've ever been served as well as the highest quality. I will head back there just for that. 

Also worth the admittedly not very far trip to Beşiktaş are the egg dishes. We ordered one menemen with pastirma (cured beef deliciousness) and two orders of the kavurmali sahanda yurmuta (chunks of the most amazing roasted beef-also delicious on a pide), the dish recommended in the Yabangee article. Yeah. Dude. Amazing. Also amazing...the price tag. The three of us split the large breakfast plate and had one egg dish and two-three cups of tea each for a grand total of 51 TL...about 18 USD.

Sinanpaşa Mahallesi
Çelebioğlu Sokak, No 8
Beşiktaş, İstanbul

05 February 2016

The Dead of Pompeii

One of the interesting things that I learned during our guided tour of Pompeii was that of the people who died (many did manage to escape) the majority were the wealthy of the city. They refused to leave because they were afraid that their houses would be raided and treasures stolen in the chaos/aftermath of the eruption.

Amphitheater at Pompeii

Temporary memorial exhibition

As I mentioned in my previous post about Pompeii, L and I gave into morbid curiosity when we heard there was a special exhibition in the amphitheater about the dead of Pompeii and how their final moments were recovered. Who doesn't want to see plaster casts of dead people?

The temporary exhibition is housed in a wooden pyramid and features not only plaster casts but a history about how these were done. I'll admit that until more recently than I'd like I assumed these plaster casts were the ashy remnants of the dead. Which is stupid because absolutely everything organic in Pompeii was consumed by the 250 C/482 F surges of heat from the ash.

You can see some of the bones and teeth still.

It was Giuseppe Fiorelli who, in 1863 realized that the cavities in the ash containing human remains were left by decomposed bodies. He devised a technique by which liquid plaster was injected into the cavities to recreate the body. His technique is still used today although with more durable resin instead of plaster.

The result of Fiorelli's discovery and the memorial exhibition is haunting. Yes there were certainly elements of the morbidity which drew L and me, especially when we caught the gleam of bones and teeth amidst the plaster; but it was far more moving than I expected.

03 February 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Kayra Vintage 2012 Shiraz

I've had this bottle of Shiraz sitting on my wine rack for so long that I had to wipe off about an inch of dust when I pulled it out not too long ago to celebrate the brief return my awesome Australian neighbor. Shiraz/Syrah is not often a wine I choose. I find that it is often lighter and more cherry driven than I generally prefer wines to be but I do from time to time enjoy a jammy wine and Shiraz usually ticks that box.

Kayra, based out of Elazığ, Anatolia is not a winery I talk about a lot even though I have featured more than a few of their wines. Part of that is because they produce under quite a few labels including Kayra Imperial, Kayra Vintage, Kayra Versus, Buzbağ Reserve, Terra, Allure, Leona, and Buzbağ. Terra I generally like a great and the Leona Muscat is still one of my favorite Turkish Muscats. As I have had so many good experiences with Kayra wines, including this Shiraz we're going to talk about, I really need to make more of a point to actively look for more wines under these various labels. For the time being though let's talk about this Shiraz.

Ruby red and clear to the rim in the glass the nose is full of cherry, berry, dried fruits, tobacco, and dried herbs. On the palate medium tannins and medium acid produced a smooth, well-integrated drinking experience with initial flavors of cherry, berry, and tobacco. As the Shiraz opened the tannins smoothed out and flavors of fruitcake, blackberry, currant, and dried herbs became more pronounced.

I made a truffled porcini mushroom risotto the evening we had this wine and they went very nicely together so I suspect that Kayra Vintage's Shiraz would also hold up well against red meats. I did enjoy this one, rather more than I thought I would at the off, but I think I would put this in the list of food wines. On its own I do not believe I would like it quite so much.