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2013 cruising season was one of markets, coastlines of islands and heat…

It began in Italy rebuilding the boat after a yard period, a quick workshop in Tuscany, a regatta then to the islands south Sicilia and onto Croatia, to the mainland in Italy down to Montenegro, and then Greece… Oh my Greece it was so good to be back there for the later half of the season, well July onwards. I can never complain of being in Greece, mind you I can say that about Italy and Spain also. My 3 favourite countries in Europe, all individual in their own ways but oh so similar in others ! It was a good season with plenty of traveling and different cultures to enjoy. The islands in Greece were as always great, the white and blue theme is spectacular against the blue of the Aegean and the blue skies. It was good to be with crew that had not experienced that part of the world before so they were able to enjoy the simplicity of life over there. It was also good to go back to my old home, Rhodes where my Greek family have a wonderful fish taverna. I used to help out there and learnt so much about Greek food, the history of Rhodes, the way the locals ate from the land during the wars, which is so interesting and so good to know. I wish I had it all written down and maybe one day I will.¬† Last year I went back into the BBQ area and helped cook the fish for a party of 80 that came in for a special dinner one night. It was great and always brings back memories of years ago when I was in their regularly helping out. It is now good to see the young boys in the family help out their grandfather, learning how to clean the fish properly, how to BBQ the fish, learning how to prep up their mothers famous desserts, or watch how they cook the shrimps, mussels. One of the four boys will surely become a chef and take over the restaurant !

But those 3 countries, Greece, Italy and Spain all instill a happiness inside me that is hard to describe with their¬† smells, senses, tastes, noises, their colours, the land, the turquoise seas around them. They have so much to give via their lands, via their people and their food yet being the oldest of our European countries they appear to falter at the realism of what the world is today and have sadly struggled with the crisis. However saying that they are surviving, people are finding new ways and they are becoming more self sufficient in many ways. The markets move me each time I visit them where ever I am. I am a market freak… having to find the local ones where ever I am making sure I am there on the day to explore what goodies they have to sell. It means the freshest of foods, the foods that are in season, not the ones flown in refrigerated containers, no the foods that are ripened by the sun. The foods that actually have flavour that you can actually close you eyes and bite into and know exactly what it is … To me this is so important to be able to have that first taste in my mouth as I bite into say a nectarine, a plum, cherry tomato, cucumber… It does not matter that the fruit or the vegetable might be mishapened, or small at least they are from the place I am buying them and they have the flavour I am looking for.

Anchored off Portisco, Costa Smeralda I have my granny trolly ready and bags as on Thursdays I go ashore to the market in San Panteleo , this week excited at the thought as I have not been up there for almost 18mths. I have to get up there before 9am as the parking becomes chaotic with people coming to visit not only the fruit and veggie section, the deli stalls, the nougat man but also the hippie stands…

San Pantaleo market, local strawberries and blackberries

San Pantaleo market, local strawberries and blackberries

It was chaotic, so full of people it was hard to walk around all because we were a little late, due to not finding our new rent a car ! oh well there is next week but I cannot complain as we cam away with a basket of figs, tiny cherry tomatoes, wild boar loin, great local pecorino, local strawberries and much more.

Then on to Olbia market on Saturday mornings, which can be very busy so again I hope to get in their early so I can park close to the market area. This market is full of local fruit and vegtables, wonderful meats and cheese stalls, also selling local olives, oils, honey, local nougat, one man just selling figs and garlic and then there are the clothing stalls, the kitchen wear stalls and the odd stalls selling all sorts of things. This week I managed to go to Olbia on my own and in my own time so had no rushing around trying to purchase food for the boat, it was more strolling through the market trying to find the people I used to buy from, and looking at the produce available, talking to the stallholders, finding new bio cheeses, or grapes. It was certainly less of a fruit and vegetable market this time, but lets hope it grows again after the summer craziness of tourism dies off a bit and people need to eat, rather than eating little to look good on the beach ! I had a wonderful time wandering around slowly absorbing what was on offer and what people were buying as it is always interesting to watch the locals buy. They only buy for a few people and maybe only for a few days, unlike when I shop and buy heaps. I am sure I am looked at strangely at times as I buy kilos of fruit and vegetables, hardly the amount for a normal household and then can barely lift the bags. One stallholder asked me why I was so interested in taking photos of his cheese, and I told him about blogging and sending the photos to family and friends telling them about this wonderful stall full of pecornio, some bio some regular and how it was fun to listen to the people and hear what they are going to do with their cheese, or as on other stands listening to what they would do with the fruit and vegetables… It is such a great way to shop and one I hate to miss where ever I am. It is so much better than just doing the normal supermarket run where the fresh foods have generally traveled for miles and always in refrigerated containers…

My bags are taken into the tender and I am driven back to the boat where I unload them and start to think of things I will make with the foods I have just bought. It is always a fun part of the day after the market deciding on what to give the crew or guests… They need to taste the cheeses and meats I have bought, the local sardinian bread that is so thin and crispy flavoured with rosemary or chilli. The olives, which sadly none of them are really interested in ! I have a few days to enjoy the foods that are now back with me onboard until I venture out back up to San Pantaleo next week and this time get there earlier so I can get the best of the best as well as be able to take a few pictures without the crowds shadowing me.

Olbia market... Pecorino and more

Olbia market… Pecorino and more

Olbia market wild boar meat selection

Olbia market wild boar meat selection

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Wow so the last post was a quick over view of the summer of 2011 and now I must catch up with 2012 so I can get up to date again and begin a fresh start of 2013..even though I have missed January and if I am not careful it will be March before I know it missing the whole of February as well !

2012 was a long year of cruising, not that I am complaining it was a lot of sea miles, and a lot of hours cooking and creating, which together were great.

Starting out in Antigua, in the West Indies where we cruised south through the islands.The islands are volcanic, and lush full of vegetation rain forests on some, sugar cane on others, or sand cays just made literally of sand, broken shells and maybe a palm tree with reefs around them full of fish, squid, shells and live coral, wonderful different sea weeds but this year was the year of the Sargasso seaweed invasion. It was so bad that on the eastern side of Antigua people had to be evacuated from hotels as the fumes were so toxic after the seaweed had filled up the bays. We saw the seaweed all season and even out into the Atlantic on our crossing back to the Mediterranean.

Pitons, St Lucia

Pitons, St Lucia

The winds are always fair in the Caribbean, so everyday the sails go up and we are sailing in fantastic conditions down island. As we are sailing almost all day meals are somewhat restricted to what I can prepare at a 30degree angle without everything in the fridge flying out of the doors if I dare open them ! My repertoire of sandwiches or wraps has grown so much in the last few years and so now in the Caribbean waters it changes again with the different foods stocks I can get there. The Caribbean is dominated by American imports until you get to the French or Dutch islands where the European foods are shipped in ( much to my delight !) They have wonderful fresh tropical fruits here which we devour with enthusiasm, pawpaw, mango, local pineapples, the black pineapple, avocados so big you have to hold them with two hands, passionfruit so sweet and full of flavor, pink grapefruits, soursop, custard apples, limes then there are the real starchy root vegetables used in all kinds of West Indian dishes dasheen, breadfruit, yams, sweet potatoes, callalilou, with plenty of ginger, nutmeg, chillies, lemongrass, coconuts and young coconut to drink and sugar cane ready to be chewed, not to mention the herbs and other locally grown veggies. The markets are always lively, full of noise ladies singing, men arguing, discussing the cricket. The colours are vibrant with umbrellas protecting the produces, the stall holders clothing and then the fruits and veggies.Johns Market, Antigua The fish markets are often filled with reef fish, that they sometimes skin before you see them which I find quite hard to look at, but there are also the Mahi Mahi, Tuna, spanish mackerel, conch and of course spiny lobsters are caught locally in the waters around the islands, and are sold from the local boats or sometimes in the markets.

Buying Lobsters from local fishermen in St Lucia

Buying Lobsters from local fishermen in St Lucia

Finding more organic produce this year was such a bonus, in the BVIs and the USVIs. Being able to find locally grown produce is such a benefit to us all, not only does it provide income to local farmers, but the produce lasts longer, has such wonderful taste, is in season and so therefore is full of nutrients as opposed to the ones flown in or shipped in, in refrigerated containers. These foods do not last and have very little flavour. We did do an experiment with some strawberries that we bought, obviously shipped in from the USA, and they lasted for 5 weeks in the fridge with no sign of mould, or decrease in shape or size… Did make me wonder what they had pumped into these poor fruits before they made it onto the shelves. I now make sure I do not buy that brand. Strawberries are spring and early summer fruit so why not just enjoy them then!

Dog Island, Anguilla

Dog Island, Anguilla

We had a great season cruising the Grenadines, Windwards, Leewards, St Barths, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands before turning Eastwards and sailing back to the Mediterranean via the Azores. Catching fish along the way but our biggest catch was just inside the Mediterranean as we passed through the Gibraltar Straits, ships all around us a big fat yellow fin tuna, about 25kg.

Yellowfin Tuna in the Gibraltar straits

Yellowfin Tuna in the Gibraltar straits

We arrived in Valencia in early May and had about a 4 week stay there which was magical. Cycling to the market each day in Cabanyal was wonderful as I would come back to the America’s Cup Port, balancing bags on the handlebars, tied onto the back and of course in my backpack swerving through the barricades that they were putting up for the Valencia Formula 1 Grand prix. Each day I would have to go another way. Sometimes I would cycle there with another chef off another boat and other times alone. It was the start of my day.

Valencia

Valencia

Valencia has so much to offer so many cycle lanes, the old town, the new city of arts which is build in the old river bed, the paella rice paddies, the long sandy beaches, the vineyards close by… If you have not been go and visit. Being there at that time of year was great, all the spring vegetables young favas, asparagus, wonderful rafa tomatoes, speciality of this area together with the Valencia tomato which is like a large beef tomato that they fill with tuna to serve. There was dried fish, smoked dried tuna, the markets are just so alive with food, and people I hated the days I would miss going there. My Spanish improved yet my Italian took over with most words but I was understood by most people. I am still not fluent by any means but one day..

Superyacht Cup Palma 2012

Superyacht Cup Palma 2012

After Valencia we sailed out to the Baleares, Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca and Minorca. We raced in a regatta in Palma which as ever was great fun, but frustrating as we did not do as well as we could, but it was worth the effort to get back into race mode for the season. Straight after the regatta we shot off to Sardegna to celebrate birthdays with many guests onboard with wonderful summer weather, catching more tuna along the way. I had plenty of filleting to do and prepared sushi and sashimi for the guests and crews delight as it was so fresh.. From Sardegna we cruised Corsica which was full of interesting bays, red rocks, pine forests, calm seas, warm weather and long sunset sails, before we headed back to the Italian mainland, and along the French Riviera in the height of the season.

Expensive cherries ! St Tropez

Expensive cherries ! St Tropez

Tackling the market in St Tropez in July is something I could do without. I had not been there at that time for at least 20 yrs and could not believe the change, in fact saddened by the change as it appeared to have lowered its standard and the fruit and vegetables stands were nothing like they had been. But saying that I still did manage to buy some wonderful things at wonderful prices and had to fight my way back to the port loaded up with bags on shoulders filled with wonderful breads, berries, other fruits and vegetables and a granny trolley filled to the brim. I am not sure the holiday makers in St Tropez really enjoyed having to tackle me on the narrow walkways or pavements as I lugged everything back down to be picked up by the tender. Lobsters at the market were brought back for dinner that night so I prepared a feast whilst the guests enjoyed an afternoon in the sun.

From France we headed back to Italy to start out regatta preparations. We did our regatta preparations in La Spezia this year as sadly our place in Isola da Maddelena was closed, so we worked with others during Ferragosta the big Italian summer holiday, prepping up the boat, emptying her of all unnecessary items, sails, dinghies etc that we do not need whilst racing and hit Sardenga with a bang for the Maxi Rolex Cup. A whirlwind of crew, food, racing, parties etc for 10days exhausts me but I love it as we pushed ourselves and came in 2nd in our class which was fantastic.

wrap a regatta up..!

wrap a regatta up..!

Banoffee whoopee pies

Banoffee whoopee pies

A quick turn around and we were off in perfect conditions to get back to La Spezia to refit the boat before turning around and heading to Greece and Turkey for the last of the Mediterranean summer warmth. We were so spoilt with the weather it was amazing. We cruised the coast of Turkey going to Greek islands when we felt like it and had a relaxing time at the end of the season over in the Eastern Mediterranean enjoying autumnal fruits and vegetables, eating wonderful local foods ashore and enjoyed a tranquil pace of life as the season was slowly coming to an end but with a long Indian summer. Buying fish and prawns from local fishermen, small boats coming up offering fruits and vegetables, or ladies making spinach and feta pancakes which are just so tasty when freshly made I can never pass them by.

Spinach and feta pancake seller...Olu Denis, Turkey

Spinach and feta pancake seller…Olu Denis, Turkey

Being back with very old friends there was wonderful, not only did I catch up with close friends in Turkey who taught me a few new recipes using dried aubergines and courgettes, but my favourite time was with my best friend and family in Rhodes, where we ate at their restaurant and spend as many hours as I could with them. Pappou the grandfather, who is just a wonderful character, told me off for not preparing my octopus the correct way to dry it, but oh boy did it taste good once it was fully dried and then grilled. It was the first piece of seafood I had tasted in 2012 as this was the year I gave up eating all seafood, for environmental reasons.

Dried aubergine, courgette and chilled. Kusadasi market, Turkey

Dried aubergine, courgette and chilled. Kusadasi market, Turkey

Drying octopus on the life lines whilst cruising in Turkey...2012

Drying octopus on the life lines whilst cruising in Turkey…2012

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Our crossing back to La Spezia was just a dream, we seemed to miss any form of bad weather and hit the dock in time for a storm to come through and dump snow on the mountains in the first week of November ! Our fishing success continued until the end when we caught the most magnificent Mahi Mahi between Greece and Italy. We docked in a small village just outside La Spezia called Le Grazie which is stunning, and the small dock is full of classic yachts, so we did stand out in a crowd there being a carbon fibre yacht amongst wooden yachts. The locals were insistent that I should be served first at the only fruit and vegetable shop so long as I told them my story and where we had been, how long we would be there for, how many people onboard and anything else they saw necessary to ask me. Again my broken Italian helped me become a local for those 2 weeks we were there and I know when I go back in May they will once again question me as to where I have been for the winter and what I will be doing for the summer. I do also benefit from all the questioning as I ask them what they are going to do with the produce in their hands for lunch or dinner as everyday they come in and buy what is required for that day, no more or less. Unlike me who is always buying a bit more just incase we suddenly drop the lines and go to sea ! Once the yard was prepared for us we motored over to the other side of the bay and came out of the water for the winter. The boat is out of the water for the whole winter, having lots of maintenance done on her and I was given time off.

Travel, cruising, cooking