Our next day was a Sea Day and, thus, the perfect time for a Private Wine Experience in one of the Star Legend’s Owner’s Suites, which one of my guests generously donated for the event.
Normally I would work with Executive Chef Joseph on the menu, but Windstar’s head of culinary operations was having no part in that! So I was relegated to choosing the wines…and there were twelve of them! Along with some Turkish and Greek wines (some with grape varieties from Bozcaada – near Canakkale – which we hadn’t tried). But I knew some of my guests were craving some bigger wines I included a California Syrah by Boony Doon and a French Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Windstar’s culinary offerings were creative, beautifully presented, and delicious…Oh, and they just kept coming. Here is just a sample!
Next, I took a personal day in Limassol, Cypress using a guide that I wasn’t too sure about, but who afforded me some flexibility in seeing a more local Cypress. And that is exactly what I received.
We started out slow, with a stop at a church – of course. Because of my friend in Corfu, Nausica (www.corfuwalkingtours.com) I had been fully briefed on Greek Orthodox churches, but it did make me think back to Corfu! (And fulfill my belief that every tour must include a church, temple or mosque. LOL)
But then the magic began! We stopped at a small, rural, olive pressing plant. It was fascinating how, inside an old warehouse, modern equipment can segregate, sort, press, and filter olives for up to ten local farmers at a time. But more fascinating was sitting with six old Greek men with their big bellies causing the buttons on their shirts to strain to keep them from bursting open, drinking Greek coffee and eating toast with fresh olive oil and oregano. I said little as they spoke no English, but I just felt privileged that they let me be among their morning discussions of…nothing.
After picking up some Cypriot breads (one curiously filled with unpitted olives…an eating challenge and one sweet) and a stop at a Cypriot winery, it was off to a family’s backyard in Choulou, Cypress; but it was not just any backyard. As I walked in, the grandfather was stringing almonds,
the grandmother was running around with bowls of a thick hot liquid, and the father was pressing grapes by hand
then pouring the liquid into a boiling pot to skim off the impurities, and another pot next to it, reducing down another batch of liquid.
With all that sweetness, yellow jackets and flies were everywhere. Yeah, you figure out what was going on!
They were making Soutzoukos, a Cypriot candy where those strings of almonds are repeatedly dipped into this grape “jelly,” creating a thick coating.
But what caught my eye was in the back of the property: A very old and well-used still! All the remains of the grape pressings were being used to make grappa. I was not a fan of grappa until I tried this, as it flowed right out of the still.
Did I mention they also made wine? I had to try it…and brought some back to the ship, which I enjoyed with a wonderful veal chop at Candles.
On our second to last day, the Star Legend was in Ashdod, Israel. I spent the morning on a tour of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. I had been to both before, but it was years ago, and I had never set an actual foot in Tel Aviv. As an American Jew, it was an interesting and needed experience, combining a feeling of familiarity with discovery.
But the highlight of the day was the Goldring Travel Private Culinary Luncheon, where Windstar’s Executive Chef Joseph and his sous chefs put on an amazing show. Once again, Windstar didn’t allow me to “interfere” and decided on the menu and the wines. They “Hit it Out of the Park!” putting on quite a show…
…and with wonderful wine pairings.
One of my favorite things to do at these luncheons is to give a Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise jacket to the Executive Chef and a couple of the staff that have gone above-and-beyond. It is touching how much it means to them…and I appreciate it so much.
Oh, but the Culinary and Cultural Experiences were not over…Not by a long shot!
Our ship arrived in Haifa, Israel, and, despite some tough security issues, we were off for a Geopolitical Tour of the Golan Heights and then an Introduction to the Druze culture and cuisine.
During our initial long drive, our Egyptian-born Jewish Israeli guide (how’s that for a start?!) gently gave some background about Israel, and its development as both a country and a Jewish state; all the while feeling out our group to see how far he could push boundaries without alienating anyone. He offered a very balanced Jewish and Christian background of the places we were passing, and, as he discussed some of the Jewish issues, I chimed in with so much of my Hebrew School experiences and Jewish memories and background flooded my brain.
We eventually arrived at the Tel Dan Nature Reserve (one of many in Israel), but we weren’t really there for the nature, but for the history and view. After a bit of a hike – which, unfortunately, was a struggle for a few in our group –
But we arrived and walked through the Dan Gate and the remains to a 5,000-year-old city
However, that is not the history lesson we had arrived here for. This place was also where Israel had set up bunkers to protect itself and its water supply from those in Lebanon and Syria, which you can see from this high point.
Fortunately, the bunkers are no longer being used as the borders moved during the 1967 War when Israel took over the Golan Heights. To see how close those opposed to Israel and Jews was (and still is) really brings things into perspective. This is especially so when you see how relatively high the Golan Heights are, looking down on you.
The history in this area and, well, all of Israel would take a lifetime to see and understand. As we descended back to our van, we “casually” passed a Middle Bronze Age gate (circa 1700 BCE) that led to the town below, but was abandoned and filled in.
We then headed up to the Golan Heights proper, with one-third of it uninhabitable because of the thousands of land mines Syria planted there decades ago. Between the lack of maps, the shifting of land, and the cost, unfortunately, this will forever be a “no man’s land”. Our guide said, only half-joking, “The signs in Hebrew and English say “Danger! Keep Out!”, but the old Arab signs say, ‘Picnic Area’“.
Alas, this was not an “Us versus Them” propaganda tour, but rather one that gently…and then more openly…discussed the issues. By the end, we all understood that where the land has been developed and filled with green farms, it is Israel, and where the land is barren and nothing is developed, it is Syria. Lebanon most definitely leans toward the latter, but it is better. (Our guide, now comfortable, eventually said, “If you step into Syria, you step back 100 years.”)
Yes, the tension and worse are unfortunately omnipresent. Yet, ironically, while we were there, Israel and Lebanon signed a peace agreement regarding the control and use of a long-disputed part of the Mediterranean Sea…bringing long-term peace just a bit closer.
It was, however, now time to lighten things up a bit. We headed to the home/restaurant of Naseba Samara; an extraordinary woman and a Druze.
You ask, “What is a Druze?” Druze is an ethnoreligious group that has existed for many centuries in the area of what is now Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. They are not Islamic, Jewish, or Christian; they believe in person-to-person reincarnation and, unfortunately, are not exactly the bastion of women’s rights…but are improving. That is part of why we were visiting with Naseba.
But first, she fed us. And that she really did! We sat at two large tables, offered water and soft drinks (no alcohol is permitted), and then the food came. The only way I can describe it is, “Middle Eastern Thanksgiving,” with platter after platter of deliciousness being delivered one after the other, so much so that there wasn’t even room on these two tables to hold it all. It was amazing and festive, to say the least!
Afterwards, it was time to gather in Naseba’s living room for a chat. While baklava, other sweets and fruits were offered (who could eat anything more?!) and fruit tea, Naseba told us her story…and what a story it is!
This charming woman is a firebrand, leading the way for Druze woman to be permitted to drive cars and establish a thriving pick-your-own fruit business when she couldn’t get workers. She’s even been an invited speaker at Harvard.
But as I was listening, I thought I’d find her place, located in Buq ‘Ata on Facebook…and then the reality of living in this area struck me.
Yes, I was in Israel, but obviously many remember it as part of Syria. Things in Israel and the Golan Heights are complicated. Very Complicated!
Having truly had meaningful experiences of a lifetime, there was only one way to end the final day of the Goldring Travel 2022 Culinary & Cultural Cruise: An Israeli Wine Tasting!
We headed off to the Assaf Winery for a very casual wine tasting to wind down and relax before we headed back to the Star Legend.
From our start with a full Turkish Breakfast as we cruises up the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, to the amazing Paired Lunch outside a 300-year-old Hamam, to the Hamam, and Whirling Dervishes, Shopping with the Windstar Chef in Kusadasi, Turkey, Dinner at Ephesus, the Saffron Crab Boil, our Five Winery Tour of Santorini, Greece, Private Cooking Demonstration, Private Wine Tasting, Private Culinary Luncheon by Windstar’s Executive Chef, the Geopolitical Tour of the Golan Heights, the Druze Experience and ending with an Israeli Wine Tasting, the Goldring Travel 2022 Culinary & Cultural Cruise was another “Once in a Lifetime Experience”!
Here are all of the articles I wrote during this journey:
The Goldring Travel 2023 Culinary & Cultural Cruise is set for July 17, 2023. Interested? Give me a call, drop me a message, or send an email!