How often do you use pepper or salt when you’re cooking? Do you sprinkle cinnamon on top of your oatmeal in the morning? Why does everyone go nuts for a Pumpkin Spice Latte when October arrives?
As I’m starting my spice tour with Azamara Club Cruises, I’m realizing how much we take these spices we use every day for granted. As I’m learning more about the spices used in these different regions, I’m also learning about their importance in the world’s history. Here are some fascinating facts:
1. Kerala, my fourth stop on the trip, was a major spice trade center as early as 3,000 B. C.
2. Arab traders controlled the spice trade between Europe and the East, like China, Indonesia, India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka, my third stop), for almost 5,000 years until Europeans started looking for a new route to the Far East.
3. Christopher Columbus found America by accident, on his way to finding a new route to India. He found Jamaica instead, which has many spices of its own, like allspice.
4. It was Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama who was the first to finally reach India in 1497, successfully navigating the southern tip of Africa. He returned from his landing spot on the southwest coast of India with his ships laden with nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and peppercorns.
5. In the Middle Ages, Europeans lacked refrigeration and general hygiene, leading to food spoiling quickly. Spices were so important because they helped mask the flavor of not-so-fresh food.
6. The Netherlands really, really wanted a small Indonesian island called Run for it’s high volume of nutmeg, so it traded a few colonies across the Atlantic. One is now called Manhattan.
7. Wars over those “Spice Islands” in Indonesia, like Run, lasted for about 200 years, between the 15th and 17th centuries.
8. Piracy was rampant on the seas, especially off the coast of Portugual, preying on the ships that were carrying spices back to Europe from the Far East.
9. India is the top spice-producing country in the world.
Travel the Spice Route with Azamara Club Cruises! Upcoming voyages include:
My second stop on the Azamara Quest spice route was Sri Lanka. Their most popular attractions are elephants and leopards, and I was hoping to see an example of both!
Sunrise in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has an extremely tropical climate which keeps it lush and green. Thankfully, the government is very protective of their beautiful forests, and it has even had a forestry conservancy in place since 1887! Today, over 50 percent of the country’s forests are protected by the Forest Department, and the other forests are managed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Excited at the thought of seeing some elephants, I decided to go on a Land Discoveries tour to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world—almost 90. They take in many of the orphaned wild elephants which are found in the forests of Sri Lanka, and was started by the Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1975.
Two elephants at Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage.
I suggest that you take the train to Hotel Pinnalanda and enjoy the serene and charming countryside during the journey. Make sure to try their excellent curry dishes, which are almost good enough to distract you from watching the elephants bathe and play while you eat. It really is a special treat.
You can also buy bananas from the locals to feed your new friends. Where else can you get to do that? It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Here I am, feeding my new friend!
We took the bus back on Kandy Road, where we saw the locals and the shops selling all sorts of colorful things, like pottery, fruit and tea.
But more about the elephants! The Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage was created to nurture and conserve the many baby elephants found in the jungle without their mothers. Many of the elephants were abandoned by their mothers, and sometimes they fall into pits or ravines in their search for water during dry seasons. They’ve also started a successful captive breeding program—so far they’ve had over 80 births!
It takes a lot to feed these elephants, as you might imagine. Each elephant is fed over 160 pounds of greens a day, plus 5 pounds of rice bran and corn. The orphanage is a very popular tourist attraction, both with Sri Lankans and international tourists, but they could use more. More visitors would help them sustain the good work they do at the orphanage. They really have done great work. Before the British colonial period, it is estimated that there were 30,000 elephants on the island. By the time the British colonialists left in the 1960s, the elephants were near extinction. Now, thanks to the orphanage, the number of elephants living in the forests is over 3,000.
After meeting these delightful, gentle and majestic creatures, I can see how worthy the orphanage’s cause is.
On April 27, we’ll make our return to the Mediterranean with a voyage calling on Mykonos and Santorini. One of the things we’re most looking forward to? The food! After all, one of the best ways to experience a culture is to experience the food. The fresh, farm-to-table flavors of the Mediterranean are hard to top.
Can’t you imagine yourself having a leisurely lunch in Santorini, soaking up the sun? The wonderful thing about this July cruise is that the Azamara Journey will arrive in port at 7:30am, before the crowds of tourists, and won’t depart until 10:00pm. That leaves you plenty of time to eat, sightsee, and take in a famous Santorini sunset!
One of our favorite places to visit in Greece is Sparta. This former military powerhouse is now a hot destination for foodies. Sparta is nestled among mountains and the Valley of the Eurotas River. The fragrant lemon and olive groves in the valley provide the town with a heavenly scent. You can learn more about Greek culture and cuisine when you explore the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil. Visit in August 2015 during this voyage.
Though nothing beats the real thing, it’s easy to have a delicous dinner of Greek cuisine at home. To start, serve fresh pita bread with tzatziki dip. Grill some souvlaki skewers and halloumi cheese, and serve alongside rice pilaf and salad. And don’t forget the life of the party – Ouzo!
Robert van Rijsbergen is the Corporate Executive Chef for Azamara Club Cruises. He says, “A Greek Salad is quite simple and very popular. The perfect summer salad if you ask me.”
Though Americanized versions of Greek Salad often include lettuce or other greens, a true Greek Salad does not.
Make your Greek Salad stand out from the crowd by using Robert’s unique recipe! In this salad, Robert uses olive tapenade instead of regular olives, uses creamy feta instead of cubes of cheese, and chops vegetables on an angle rather than dicing. The result? A delicious Greek Salad with a twist that’s sure to wow your friends and family!
Greek Salad With A Twist (Makes Six Servings)
1 cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/4-inch thick in an angle
1 red bell pepper, large-diced
1 green bell pepper, large-diced
1 yellow bell pepper, large-diced
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 red onion, julienned
5 scallions, sliced on an angle
1/2 pound feta cheese, blended until creamy (you can add a little sour cream)
1/2 cup olive tapenade
Small bunch flat parsley
Rosemary or thyme croutons
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place the chopped cucumber, peppers, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl.
For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Still whisking, slowly add the olive oil to make an emulsion. Pour most of the vinaigrette over the vegetables and toss lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
Add the creamy feta, scallions and olives tapenade on top immediately before serving. Garnish with croutons and flat parsley. Drizzle the rest of the vinaigrette around each serving of salad, and serve at room temperature.
To me, temples and castles seem to be magical, and they take me back to a time in the past. I left Asia as a child, and this is my first journey back to Asia. It is a great introduction for me to further explore my history.
But this part of the world is all new to me. Visiting KekLok Si—what a visual feast! No wonder it’s name means “Temple of Supreme Bliss”.
Is it a colorful city in the mountains? That may be what it looks like on the surface, but it’s actually the largest Chinese temple in Southeast Asia, right in Penang.
As you hike to the temple up the stairway, it is a slow incline that lifts you to your Zen path. The roofs provide shelter over an assortment of shops that sell souvenirs and other goods.
Inside, it’s hard to comprehend all the detail. There are literally millions of images of Buddha (there’s even a Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas!), and so many sculptures, murals and carvings that all have specific meanings. The priest who founded the temple, Venerable Beow Lean, felt that the location had the right feng-shui for a temple. He named the hill “Huock-san”, or Crane Hill, because he thought the hill looked like a crane spreading its wings.
The temple is perched on a hillside and provides amazing views of Georgetown. The magnificent view provides such an array of colors and flavors, and brings me back to my childhood in Vietnam.
What a riot of color and detail! Touring the Kek Lok Si temple in the hills surrounding Penang is an absolute one-of-kind experience—and one I’ll never forget.
By Azamara Club Cruises on Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Istanbul, Turkey is where West meets East, and tourists can visit Europe and Asia in the same day. The city is an exotic, fascinating mix of old and new. World travel expert Lee Abbamonte wrote “Istanbul can be maddening at times, but Istanbul is a treat for the senses and will take your breath away. It is one of my favorite cities in the world.”
We currently have 28 voyages that begin or end in Istanbul. Once you book, you might want to extend your vacation by a few days to explore this incredible city. Or, make the most of your time in Istanbul by choosing a Land Discoveries tour that will help you hit all the highlights. Our voyages feature late-night departures and overnight stays, so there’s no need to rush. Though Istanbul itself is a bustling metropolis, your time there shouldn’t feel hectic. After all, you’re on vacation!
Istanbul has lots to offer, but we’ve narrowed down the list to five things you must experience while you’re there.
Istanbul is home to many incredible museums that highlight the city’s rich history. Topkapi Palace (pictured here) was home to Ottoman Sultans (and their harems) for over 300 years, but is now a museum. Visit to see the grandeur of the palace, the famous Topkapi Diamond, and other historical treasures.
The famous Hagia Sophia was once a church, then a mosque, and is now a museum. This makes it one of the most interesting places in Istanbul, both historically and architecturally. You’ll see both Ottoman and Byzantine influences under one great dome, as well as spectactular Byzantine mosaics that weren’t uncovered and refurbished until 1930.
For those with a deeper interest in history, the Istanbul Archaelogy Museums are a highlight and can be found near Topkapi Palace.
Istanbul’s Blue Mosque is the city’s most famous mosque, and absolutely worth visiting. From the outside, you may wonder how the mosque got its name. Inside, the Blue Mosque is covered with 20,000 spectacular, shimmering blue-green tiles. 260 stained glass windows and intricate floral patterns painted on the ceiling give the mosque a bright, airy atmosphere very different from the experience of the Hagia Sophia.
Of course, the Blue Mosque is not the only beautiful mosque in Istanbul. The Süleymaniye Mosque is the second-largest in the city, and features a grand courtyard. At Rüstem Pasha, you’ll find the best examples of Iznik tiles (the distinctive Ottoman decoration) in all of Istanbul.
Turkish cuisine is diverse, flavorful and world-renowned. Indulging in street food is a must, as well as enjoying a leisurely late-night dinner. (There’s another reason to be thankful that Azamara ships stay late in port – great cuisine should never be rushed!)
Döner: Turkey’s most popular street food, a sandwich filled with meat (usually lamb) that has been thinkly sliced from a rotating spit.
Börek: Phyllo pastries with a variety of fillings, like ground meat, cheese and spinach.
Meze: Instead of a main course, order these shareable plates of cold starters. Eggplant, artichokes, yogurt, chilis and tomatos are common ingredients.
Midye: Mussels (and seafood in general) are popular in Istanbul. You’ll see roving vendors carrying baskets piled with shells, which have been stuffed with mussels, rice, herbs and spices. At snack bars, look for mussels that have been battered and fried.
Kumpir: Huge baked potatos, taken hot out of the oven and split, then filled with a variety of toppings – cheese, pickles, olives and more. It’s not uncommon to ask for six or seven ingredients. The kumpir-maker mixes everything up and stuffs it back into the potato skin.
Simit: Sesame-coated bread rings. Simit is the ultimate street food – cheap, delicous, easy to eat and seemingly available on every corner.
Baklava: A popular Turkish dessert made with phyllo pastry, nuts and syrup.
Turkish Tea and Coffee: Turkish black tea is the national drink, and consumed plentifully. Turks often add cubed sugar, but never lemon or milk. Turkish coffee is made with sugar and very finely ground coffee. It’s typically double- or triple-boiled, with some of the grinds remaining in the bottom of the cup. The result is a strong, flavorful cup of coffee that is traditionally served with a glass of water.
Rugs, linens, fabrics, jewelry, art, antiques, spices, ceramics… the list of things to buy in Istanbul is endless! Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. It spans 61 streets, is home to over 3,000 shops and attracts anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 daily visitors. Bring your bargaining skills, and take your time as you wander this incredible complex.
Photo Credit: Azamara guest Diane
Sometimes night is the best part of your day. In Istanbul, that couldn’t be truer. The city is vibrant and fun-loving, and comes alive after dark. Settle in at a meyhame for platters of hot and cold meze, or find a great rooftop patio where you can sip a cocktail and take in the views.
This June voyage embarks from Dubrovnik, Croatia and visits several popular Greek ports before concluding with an overnight stay in Istanbul.