Sunday, August 9, 2015

Chef's Table Aboard the Island Princess

     We were honored to be guests at the Chef's table on the lovely Island Princess. If you have ever cruised, you know what an honor that truly is! Out of more than 2,000 guests aboard the Island Princess, only 11 were selected to partake in this exclusive event. While the food in the dining room is always incredible, the chef's table is absolutely phenomenal! The trick to being invited to the chef's table is to go straight to your room and call the Maitre D' phone line the minute you board (there is also a fee, but it is very minimal for everything that is involved). Then you will also have to call and keep following up with them, as it is not something that can be pre-booked, and generally is filled up immediately! Fortunately for us, my mom knows the drill, and made sure we were 2 guests for this extra special evening!

     We started about 6:30, where we were greeted by the Maitre D' and given a hand washing lesson and white coats before we could enter the galley. We were then escorted as a group through the dining room. This was an interesting experience becuase many cruisers do not know about the Chef's Table, and had no idea why we were being treated like royalty by the Maitre'D' and Executive Chef.

Executive Chef Guido, and Maitre D' Gissepi

     Once inside the Galley, we were handed glasses of Crystal Champaigne (which were topped off before they could even be emptied), and introduced to the staff that would be serving us that evening. We were also treated to our first FOUR appetizers:

Ice Sculpture in the galley, just for our evening!

Sesame Marinated Big Eyes Tuna Tartar with Wasabi

Fontina Cheese Quiche, White Truffles and Cherry Tomatoes

Deep Fried Panko Coated Black Tiger Prawns (The chef even made a special deep fried chicken for Jeremy due to his shellfish allergy)

Roasted New Potatoes with Sour Cream and Black Pearl Caviar

     After about an hour in the galley, eating and listening to Chef Guido talk about his many culinary accomplishments, we were invited back out to the dining room where we had a special table set just for the 11 of us. Again, people around the dining room were watching, and wondering what was going on!

     After we had some time to socialize, we were given our fifth course, Gratinated Parisienne Pillow Dumplings with Black Truffles, which was paired with Donnafugata Anthelia Wine.

     After finishing our fifth appetizer, it was time to cleanse our pallettes. Chef Guido presented us with beautiful individual ice sculpted bowls with Orange Lemon Sorbet with Mango Slaw, and topped with Grey Goose Vodka. It was beautiful, and delicious!

Chef Guido presenting our Sorbet

This was only Chef Guidos second time making these ice bowls!

Shortly after our sorbet was finished, Chef Guido came out to flambe our main course tableside.
nothing like tableside Flambe!
     We were treated to a main course of Roasted Veal Rack and Black Angus Beef Tenderloin, which was also carved tableside, also Mushroom, and Roast Potatoes. All paired with Seghesio wine.
Veal Chops (that tray was VERY heavy)!

main course

     After 7 courses, we were more than full, however, there were still several courses left to go! Course number 8 consisted of Baked Brie De Meaux with Pine Nuts, Port Wine Reduction, Walnut and Fig Bread.

cheese plate

Course number 9 was presented by the Head Pastry Chef, which was Chocolate Praline Timbale pared with Errazuruz "late harvest" Sauvignon Blanc Dessert Wine.

first dessert

Course number 10 was coffee or tea paired with Homemade Bon Bons and other Petit Fors. The presentation was just as beautiful as the treat! The pastry chef created a grand piano out of chocolate which was placed on the serving tray!

     After all ten courses, the wait staff from the evening came out and sang Happy Anniversary to Jeremy and me, and presented us with a special chocolate cake....that was taken to our room for another day!

     At the end of the evening (approaching 11pm) all of the ladies were presented with a fresh rose from the ship florist, and the gentemen were presented with a beautiful Princess cookbook. It was an incredible experience, and something that we would certainly do over and over again on future cruises!

Chef Guido presenting roses

Us with Chef Guido and Maitre' D' Gissepi

Stay tuned....our journey takes us to Kusadasi, Turkey and Ephesus next! 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Istanbul, Turkey

  On the morning of June 10, we worke up early for a lovely breakfast in the Provence Dining Room before heading to meet our group for the day. We quickly loaded the bus, and were shuttled from the ship, which was docked in "new" Istanbul (on the continent of Europe) over the bridge to "old" Istanbul (on the continent of Asia Minor). Istanbul is the only country that straddles across two continents.

European side and Asian side of Istanbul

     Once on the other side of the bridge, we arrived at the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, otherwise known as the Blue Mosque. The Mosque gets its nickname from the many blue painted tiles that cover most of the interior (more on that later).

entrance to the courtyard in front of the Blue Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque)

     As we made our way through the long line, we admired the many features of the outside, including the foot washing stations lining the side of the Mosque.

foot washing stations

     When we neared the door, mom and I (as we are women) were checked to make sure we had our heads covered, as well as our shoulders and knees. The culture is very different from what we are used to, women are still not respected in the same regards as we are back home. There was a very strict dress code to adhere to, and if women were not dressed appropriately, they were given a blanket to wrap themselves in.

     Upon entering the floor of the Mosque, it is also required of everyone to remove shoes.

     Walking into the Mosque, I was awed by the beauty surrounding me. The floors were covered in beautiful, handmade Turkish carpeting, and the walls and ceilings were adorned with individual tiles, each handpainted with blue florals. Islamic Mosques are not allowed have pictures of people, or animals in their decor, which is why tulips have become the primary flower of choice for Mosque decor.

the hand painted tiles on the ceiling

     After leaving the Blue Mosque, we walked over to the Hagia Sofia, about a block away. The Hagia Sofia is now used as a museum to the many empires that have ruled Istanbul. It has historically served as a holy place for Pagens, Christians, as well as Islams.

looking through the bridge from the Blue Mosque

Hagia Sofia

     Walking into the Hagia Sofia, it is easy to spot the different cultures, you can see the Frescos that originated under the Christians, and later covered by the Islams, only to be re-discovered when exploring the history.

The many empires from which Hagia Sofia was ruled

The Mosque side of Hagia Sofia

Frescos that were uncovered 

     After spending some time admiring the many histories of the Hagia Sofia, we boarded our bus once again to head to the Grand Bazaar. Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is home to over 3,000 shops covering over 60 streets.

One of the many entrances

looking down one of the streets of the Bazaar

     We were given several hours to explore the streets and bargain our way through the Bazaar. It is a very different culture from what we are used to in the states. While it is customary to bargain with the shop owners, it is also common for them to invite you into their shop for a cup of turkish tea.

outdoor part of the Grand Bazaar

This is where we ate lunch! It was delicious!
     While we were shopping in the Grand Bazaar, we experienced the call to prayer that can be heard just about anywhere in Istanbul. The minarets surrounding mosques are adorned with speakers which sound the voice of the call to prayer.

The Minarets are the tall towers surrounding the mosque

     We enjoyed our time in Istanbul, and we would certainly return to see more! Just be aware of the Mosquitos (the salesmen that DO NOT leave you alone)!

Sailing away from Istanbul. On our balcony

     After our return to the lovely Island Princess, we had to get ready for our big evening at the chef's table. stay tuned to hear all about our amazing evening with the executive chef!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mykonos, Greece - and Petros, the Pink Pelican

     After a much needed day of relaxation, we found ourselves docked at the Greek port of Mykonos. Mykonos is one of the many islands that make up the Greek Isles. It is the perfect quintessential Greek island, complete with white washed buildings, narrow streets, and brilliant blue doors! I fell in love with this island!

     We chose to not take a shore excursion in Mykonos, as it is just a very small tourist town. We wandered the beautiful winding roads, and were awed by the pure beauty of the island.

the front door to an apartment

in the courtyard of a residential street

just another residential street

more residential
restaurant, with apartments on top
     We explored the beach front, and found ourselves along the 5 windmills along the shore. It makes for a wonderful backdrop to a perfect little town!

the windmills along the shoreline

so pretty!

playing on the beach in front of the windmills

the water was COLD!!

     After strolling along the beach, we stopped for coffee at one of the restaurants lining the shorefront. We found a table that was backed right up to the water, and enjoyed the views.

the view from our table at the restaurant. Notice the fisherman?!

our table, and Greek coffee, yummy!!
     While we were taking in the beauty of the island, we noticed that we had a visitor, IN the restaurant! Mykonos is home to the famous pink pelican named Petros. He is like the island pet, and just wanders around the island! The locals take good care of him, which is why he doesn't fly away! He waits at the port in the mornings for the fishermen to bring him breakfast, and gets food throughout the day from the locals!

He is actually a very friendly pelican!

he even likes to be pet!

it looks like Petros is enjoying that!

     Petros must have been hungry, he walked right inside the restaurant and started screaming! When no one was feeding him, he started knocking things off the shelves with his beak! It was quite entertaining! We were mesmorized by him!

no wonder he liked this restaurant, look at the daily special!

just sayin' hi to some buddies!
     We only had a half day in Mykonos before we set sail for Istanbul at about 1:00pm. In the afternoon, mom and I enjoyed the on board wine tasting, which included 6 different wines selected by the Maitre D'Hotel. We enjoyed a lovely dinner in the Bordeaux dining room, then decided to spend some time in the casino for fun. Jeremy entered the blackjack tournament, along with about 200ish other people, and won the final round of $500!! 
     We had a wonderful day in Mykonos, and I highly recommend anyone to go there in the future! It is the most beautiful town I have ever seen! I will be back to the Greek Isles!

Greek Orthodox church in the heart of Mykonos - there are many small churches on the island

more apartment lined streets

all of the streets look like this!

a path to another street

another church

Back to the Island Princess!
     Look out for tomorrows adventures in Istanbul, Turkey!