Tag Archives: Coffee

Indecent Children Songs and Our First Day in Rio

In preparation for our trip to Rio we downloaded the song Copacabana. One of our nicknames for Ava is Lola and the kids have an imaginary friend named Cobana, so they’ve both been in a delighted frenzy exclaiming, “Her name was Lola! She was a showgirl! With Cobana!” to everyone from Cape Town to Rio. That song is only a close second to Katy Perry’s wisdom about California girls in bikinis. No wonder we get strange looks everywhere we go.

Rio de Janeiro was not part of our original itinerary. We had a few weeks left during the tail end of our journey and couldn’t decide where to go between Cape Town and New York. A deal on Emirates gave us the idea to make this stop in South America. What should have been a 3,800 mile trip took us 12,100 as we had to fly through Dubai. We survived the 25 hour journey and have been revived by Rio’s vivacious personality.

Sandeep and I have had a long interest in things Portuguese. Ava’s first flight was to Portugal when she was a year old. Goa, where my father is from, was a Portuguese colony until 1961. The portuguese culture, from its food and wine to its music has always fascinated us, so a trip to Rio seemed fitting. Sandeep was excited for Brazilian coffee, I wanted to see capoeira and samba and we all looked forward to some warm weather and beach.

Wanting to balance safety with atmosphere, we struggled to decide where to stay in Rio. In the end we rented a house in Santa Teresa, a bohemian artsy area set in the hills above the city. We spent most of today walking through the narrow and steep cobble stone streets, which remind Ava of Istanbul. The churches, all screaming colonial Portugal, transported me back to Old Goa.

It’s probably a perfect mix of warm weather and a social culture that brings Cariocas (people from Rio) out to the streets. Every neighborhood has a church and accompanying square, whose personality changes by the hour. We live on one such square, Largo des Neves. At 6:30 A.M. (yes, our jet lag had us up at that hour), a bread truck come bearing freshly risen loaves. Ava and Sandeep ran out to get our breakfast.

In the morning, kids shuffle to school. Outdoor action quiets down in the mid day sun, save for a few vans proclaiming things in Portuguese from very loud loudspeakers. Once the kids are back from school, the square fills with gossiping mothers, kids practicing capoeira and giggling teenagers. Night continues to be a trans generational affair, with people sipping on caipirinha made to order at one impromptu table and others nibbling on various assortments of grilled meat and cheese for sale at another pop-up vendor. Here is the same square at 9 PM.

It seems that everyone knows each other and at first we weren’t sure if we were crashing a family party. Then the crowed grew to the point that we realized no family (not even an Indian one) is that large. It’s now 10 PM and we’re jet lagged and trying to sleep. A Samba band has just started outside and the party doesn’t show any signs of dying down. We came to Brazil for coffee, capoeira, samba and sunshine. We didn’t realize we’d get it all on day one. Viva Brazil!


Filed under Brazil

Our Visit Around Athens

Even  though we never made it to the Parthenon, we did a lot during our few days in Athens. We missed our Vouliagmeni sunsets so headed up to the highest point in Athens, Lykavittos Hill, located a few blocks from our apartment in Kolonaki, and watched the Parthenon welcome the night from afar (again).

The hill has a tiny church, Agios George, that overlooks the city.

In general, we have been very surprised by the quiet air in Athens. The largest crowd we saw was during our bike ride. Despite walking all over the city, we have yet to see a single protest. What we have noticed is that many stores are shut down, barricaded or have For Rent signs plastered on them. We have also seen anarchy graffiti everywhere. This is no doubt due to the Greek crisis. Despite this, the one place a visitor can count on finding company is a coffee house. No matter the time of day, there are always people sipping espresso, drinking frappes and reading papers. Notice how everyone is sitting against the wall so that they can do their share of people watching.

The city’s museums are working on reduced schedules as they can no longer afford to keep their staff full time. One thing that continues is the hourly changing of the guards at the parliament building.

Church also goes on and we paid a visit to Agios Dionnysios, dedicated to the first bishop of Athens. Kayan took church music as his cue to sing Katy Perry’s California Girls at the top of his lungs. Just when he belted out, “Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top,” we cowered out.

Athens is going through a hard time. People told us to be careful where we walked, watch our stuff and not to stay out late in unknown areas. Crime has been an issue since the Olympics but, in the wake of the crisis, has escalated. Despite the caution and quiet atmosphere, we enjoyed Athens. We also feel oddly good that we did our part to stimulate the Greek economy.  Our average meal in Greece has been 30 Euros ($37), far higher than any other country we have visited on our trip, including our standard spots in New York City. The three Luke girls leave happy.

And the three Luke boys are ready to protect us in the wilds of Namibia.


Filed under Greece, Religion

Turkish or Greek Coffee?

We went into Turkey expecting to love Turkish coffee. What we learned is that it’s easy to go wrong with its preparation. Some establishments burn the brew and others are too hasty in its preparation, churning out a watery drink over a grimy base. Good Turkish coffee is robust and smooth, never bitter, have a frothy head and an ever so faint grainy texture. As we spend more time in Istanbul, we understood Turkish coffee and where to score a perfect cup.

Turkey, after Yemen, was one of the first countries to truly adopt a coffee culture. The Ottoman Governor of Yemen introduced the drink back home to Suleiman the Magnificent in 1543. Soon, coffee became integral to Turkish life. Throughout the day, Turkish coffee houses serve the concoction in colorful 3 ounce ceramic glasses. Turkish coffee preparation and consumption is a slow affair, so it naturally leads to a social element as well.

When we came to Greece, we saw what we thought was Turkish coffee. The only recognizable difference is that the Greeks serve it in white porcelain cups.

It turns out that is the only difference. For a long time, Turkish coffee was referred to as Turkish coffee even in Greece. However, when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, the irate Greek government was against the use of  Turkish terms. Greek coffee was born. Coffee becomes Turkish, or Greek, coffee due to its preparation, not bean variety. Most coffee is made by running hot water or steam through ground beans. Turkish coffee uses superfine grounds to avoid the filtering process. Grounds are essentially boiled and dissolved into the brew. Beware, though, not all the grounds disappear, leaving a thick base. The solution for the inedible leftovers? Fortune telling.

If you want to try your hand at Turkish, I mean Greek, coffee, you can follow the step by step instructions here.

While Greek coffee may be Turkish coffee, the Greeks do have their own unique coffee culture. It is one that revolves around frappe. In the late 1950s, a Greek representative of Nestle improvised a cold brew of coffee, water and ice. After vigorous shaking, it resulted in a super frothy foam. Today, in most parts of Greece, it is more common to see people gathered over frappes than Greek coffee.

The relaxation with which Turkish coffee is enjoyed is not lost on Greek frappes. Unlike a Starbucks pick-up, frappe consumption in Greece is a leisurely affair. The rule of thumb is one sip every ten minutes. Any faster and the barista will be offended. With Greek waters as the setting, why would you hurry anyway?

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Filed under Food, Greece, Turkey