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Saturday, January 31, 2015


A warm and welcome oasis after a long day of touring Istanbul’s Old City afoot.
Photo: Phyllis Shess, Pillar to Post blog, January 9, 2015
WARM AND WELL LITBy Thomas Shess, Coffee Tourist--Friday we spent walking the amazing Old City section of Istanbul.  The blue skies and sunshine of a 40 degree F January day was long gone and a chilly breeze had come in off the nearby Sea of Marmara.  By 9:30 pm after 12 plus hours strolling in and out of the Old City shops, sites and with the temperature falling, we were ready to call it a night and head to our room at the Hagia Sofia Hotel on Yerbatan Street.  

Earlier, we were fascinated with the dancing waters of a large fountain in Sultan Ahmet Park.  At night, changing lights are synchronized with the jets of water giving the park (situated between the Ayasofya Museum and the Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) an even more inspiring atmosphere.

Café Grande is near
the Sultanahmet tram
stop in Istanbul’s Old City.
Cutting across the park, we dodged the omnipresent trams and noticed a pleasant looking patisserie along Divan Yolu street (tram line). Called simply “Grande,” the shop was a classic warm and well lit café serving bakery goods, tea and coffee.  Overwhelmed with the choice of pastries we opted for a strawberry tart.  After walking 20 miles in a day my sense of menu exploration faded.  But I did order a Turkish coffee with no sugar.  Phyllis, wife, and official tour leader ordered what turned out to be one of the best cappuccinos she’s had in a long time.
Our local guide said coffee in Istanbul would be strong.  Take that to the bank.  Turkish coffee can be drunk with no sugar, little sugar or much sugar.  The distinctive feature of it is that it is simmered, served in small porcelain cups with plenty of crema (they call it scum) on top.  In the old days, Turkish coffee in cafes were prepared in copper coffee pots on embers, but today automatic machines are widely used.

Also, cafes catering to only coffee and tea are easily found but the coffee is so good in all restaurants, bakeries and sidewalk stands that you don’t have to find a place that serves only coffee or tea to get a great cup.
After ordering, we then noticed how small the main floor of Café Grande really was. Patrons will find plenty of tables lining the sidewalk.  The man behind the counter noticed we weren’t exactly excited about returning to the now 25F outside.  He suggested we go upstairs to the “beautiful terrace.”  He pointed to an elevator in the back that was partially hidden by stacked store supplies.  It wasn’t the most elegant departure point for the “beautiful terrace.”  But when in Istanbul you hop on the two-person elevator and very slowly make it up five floors to what indeed turned out to be a terrific room filled with cabaret style chairs and tables.
As we waited for our coffees and pastry we were treated to a remarkable view as posted below.

Being Friday, Istanbul was still awake.  And so were we as the caffeine bolted us into another pleasant hour of conversation and coffee atop the Grande while recalling our favorite sites, shops, and meals we had earlier in the day.

Beautiful view of the Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) from the terrace of Cafe Grande
Note: We noticed Starbucks outlets in the Old City were hugely popular with the residents.  Jammed would be a better choice of a word.   And, on the Asian side of the Bosporus we noted a McDonald’s had a maître d’ complete with suit and tie.  We didn’t stop but filed that nugget of McDonald’s info to go with the surprisingly stunning Euro-modern interior décor of the McDonald’s near Madrid’s Atocha train station.

Café Grande
Haci Tahsinbey Sok. No:44
Sultanahmet/Istanbul—Avrupa, Turkey
+90 212 512 7780

Friday, January 30, 2015


At 19-stories, the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, is the only
high-rise ever completed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Tower is
one of ten Wright projects designated as the first nominations
by the United States Government in the field of Modern
Architecture.     Photos: Phyllis Shess, Pillar to Post blog, 2014.
FIRST U.S. NOMINATION FOR MODERN ARCHITECTURE--Today, the United States announced the nomination of a group of 10 buildings in seven states designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright for inclusion on the World Heritage List.

The UNESCO World Heritage List recognizes the “outstanding universal value” of the most significant cultural and natural sites on the planet.

The nomination, “Key Works of Modern Architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright,” is the first World Heritage nomination by the United States in the field of modern architecture, and includes Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois; Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago, Illinois; Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin; Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, California; Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania; Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin; Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City; Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma; and Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, California.

The UNESCO World Heritage designation brings with it significant international attention, prestige, and increased tourism. The United States served as the prime architect of the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty created to promote conservation and preservation of important natural and cultural sites.

There are currently 1007 designated sites in 161 countries around the world, including such iconic places as the Statue of Liberty, the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House, and the Grand Canyon. U.S. leadership at UNESCO on natural and cultural heritage preservation promotes appreciation of important U.S. sites, protects endangered treasures, and supports local economies through tourism.

Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States:

Price Tower, 2014


North Park resident and nationally acclaimed brewer, Kelsey McNair was photographed signing the application seeking public approval to open his North Park Beer Company at University Avenue and Ray Street in North Park, a historic San Diego neighborhood noted for its craft beer centric vitality.    Photograph by Mike Shess, Publisher West Coaster.
LABOR OF LOVE--Award-winning homebrewer Kelsey McNair will open North Park Beer Company at 3038 University Avenue. With terms for a long-term lease negotiated, the nearly 9000 square foot space will contain a 15 barrel brewhouse in addition to a kitchen.

McNair, a North Park resident, won Stone Brewing Co.’s March Madness homebrewing competition with his San Diego County Session Ale in 2010, and won Gold in the 2010, 2012 and 2014 National Homebrewing Competition with Hop-Fu! IPA.

North Park Beer Co. will occupy the former location of Undisputed Gym on the corner of Ohio and University, joining nearby beer neighbors Mike Hess Brewing, Bottlecraft and Seven Grand. Construction on the brewpub is expected to begin in six months.

Times couldn’t be rosier for McNair.  As an avid homebrewer Kelsey McNair recently brought home the Gold Medal to San Diego for his Hop-Fu! in the final round of the 36th annual American Homebrewers Assn.’s annual National Homebrew Conference Competition (held this year in Grand Rapids, Michigan).  In the world of homebrewing that’s a huge accomplishment as McNair turned away 852 (in the IPA category) other amateur brewers for this year’s win. 

McNair now boasts three Gold medals in the past five years for the same India Pale Ale recipe.   “No other homebrewer has ever accomplished that,” adds West Coaster magazine editor Ryan Lamb. 

It will be interesting if McNair can top his accomplishments to date when this year’s home brew event will be in June, 2015 in San Diego.
So, what is it about San Diego that brings out the best in home brewing?
First, let’s go back a few years September, 1979 when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill into law allowing home brewing.  That piece of federal legislation became brewing’s big bang for amateur and professional brewers all across the country.  For the next 35 years, homebrewing has grown exponentially and so has the collective wisdom of its participants.
Watershed years for area home brewers can be traced to the mid-1990s.  That’s when homebrewer Jack White turned pro by founding two key beer centric businesses (Home Brew Mart and Ballast Point Brewing) and aided in the start up of a third (White Labs, a world wide supplier of fresh yeast).
While a homebrewer, Jack White grew tired of driving to El Cajon from his home in the beach area to one of the few beer supply stores operating in the area at that time.  He and a brewer friend, Yuseff Cherney, felt there was enough homebrewing zealots around to support Home Brew Mart, which they founded in the Morena area in 1995.  Within a few years after the big success of Home Brew Mart, White and Cherney founded Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Another Rosetta Stone in local homebrewing was when White and Cherney also collaborated with Chris White (no relation) to found White Labs in 000.  The lab today is one of the world’s largest producers of quality yeast for brewing.
Writer, home brewer Sam Tierney, a Siebel Institute graduate, who turned pro as a brewer with Firestone Walker said “a huge part of the incredible growth of the brewing industry—amateur and professional—has been due to the presence of White Labs, one of the industry’s leading yeast labs.”  Chicago-based Siebel is America’s oldest brewing school.
Having White Labs in San Diego gave local homebrewers easier access to such a vital ingredient. With fresher ingredients San Diego homebrewers started to produce in a nutshell better tasting beer.
White by no means was the only active homebrewer dozens more all have claim to helping put San Diego homebrewing on the proverbial map.  Homebrewers, who turned pro, Skip Virgilio, co-founder of AleSmith (that was sold to Peter Zien in 2002).  Virgilio was also instrumental in the founding of QUAFF, a popular homebrewing club (Quality Ale and Fermentation Society).
Today, there are three home brew clubs in San Diego, Foam on the Brain, The Mashheads and Quaff while the three in North County are Barley Literate, North County Homebrewers and the Society of Barley Engineers.
 “Home brewing clubs in the San Diego area are fantastic, said Mitch Steele, the brewmaster at Escondido’s Stone Brewery, “By hanging out with the people who are experienced brewers and who love to brew, a new homebrewer can soak up tons of knowledge to improve their skills.”
Steele, a widely experience brewer a the national level, pointed out another driving force, which makes the area so well respected is the fact homebrewers have taken to heart the technical aspects of brewing championed by the American Homebrewers Assn.  “AHA has been a driving force in the hobby since it was founded in 1978, including the influence of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) really can’t be understated.”
AleSmith Brewing Co.’s Peter Zien took to heart the technical aspects of quality brewing.  He’s gone from garage-based homebrewer to world class brewery owner to honing reputation for being one of the nation’s top BJCP-certified Grand Master Level One judges.  At the university level, Zien, is also teaching others how to be beer judges.  And, Zien is taking his zeal for food another step in 2011 by founding CheeseSmith, a creamery at AleSmith’s Miramar district location.         

Obviously Zien’s acumen and zen approach to life (he calls his operations “artist colonies”), has paid off because in 2013 AleSmith beat out more than 16,000 other breweries worldwide to earn the title of “Top Brewer in the World” by RateBeer, a international consumer web site dedicated to craft beer and the craft beer culture.
Kelsey McNair expressed Zien has played a big role in his growth as a brewer.  “I recall hitting a plateau when I was brewing good beer but I wasn’t winning any awards.  I met Peter when I took his beer judging class and I pointed out my dilemma.  He asked me what I was doing with my water and suggested I delve into water chemistry.  That’s what I did and I began to win awards after that.”
McNair’s experience with Zien is one example of how so many San Diego amateur and professional brewers enjoy interacting with each other to make better beer. 
But let’s return to a question posed earlier.  What makes San Diego so craft beer/home brew centric.  Respected area homebrewer Stan Sisson explained it is the sense of community and the willingness to share expertise with rookies.  “Joining a homebrew club is the most important thing a newbie brewer can do.  Club interaction keeps you learning and stops you from repeating the same mistakes.
Ex-Wall Street litigator Finn Parker got into the craft beer industry full time by becoming a buyer for Brothers Provisions, a unit of Urge Gastropub in Rancho Bernardo.  “I had 400 beers in my beer cellar and realized those beers needed to be shared.”  It has been all craft beer for Parker since that realization.        
Sharing knowledge is key. Currently University of California San Diego and San Diego State have degree programs in brewing. 
And, if you think homebrewing is a just for the good ol’ boys, think again as the brewing scene locally has so many women in the industry that’s its not tokenism.  Women in brewing are well organized and are quick to embrace charitable events by hosting beer events.  Chicks for Beer and the Pink Boots Society are examples of women’s groups active in the area.
With so much support available for men and women at every level of homebrewing that it has encouraged locals to be wildly creative mixing and matching ingredients and brewing techniques.  For example, here’s a judge’s description of McNair’s recent Gold Medal IPA: “Hop-Fu! is a true West Coast style IPA featuring a blast of orangey-citrus, woodsy-pine, with notes of tropical fruit and sticky resinous hop oils.  Hop-Fu! is aggressively bitter yet has a smooth, clean, crisp and dry finish.”
And, in San Diego homebrewing circles for 2015 you can take that gold to the bank.

Articles from West Coaster by Mike Shess and San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles by Tom Shess contributed to this blog post.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


January, Washington DC's Tidal Basin with Jefferson Memorial
Pillar to Post blog photography by Phyllis Shess unless indicated otherwise
DODGING THE WEATHER GODS—We landed in mid-January at Dulles Airport on an uncrowded Virgin America red eye and were greeted with wisps of rain and 25F on the thermometer.  We decided on a winter vacation because we could, plus we can handle bad weather better than big crowds.  Arriving at a late hour, we hopped a Washington Flyer, a quality shuttle service that has plenty of vehicles ready (even at midnightso one need not book a car in advance or share rides.  “Just wanted to get to the hotel room and the $64 plus tip fare to Dupont Circle was OK given the hour.”

Upon arrival at our hotel, which we booked six months earlier on a popular online travel website, we discovered the Massachusetts Avenue Euro-style hotel that we enjoyed on a previous trip was undergoing massive reconstruction.  We had to search for the entrance.  Our shuttle driver located the lobby down in the garage while I steamed under the scaffolding.  Check in desk turned out to be a conference a podium in a lower level hallway.  It got worse but were too tired to find another hotel for the remainder of our week in the nation’s capitol. (Example of what can go wrong by planning too far in advance and compounded by no courtesy update by the hotel re: upcoming construction war zone to guests that were on the books when owners decided to remodel.  Nice place but we’ll never go back).

Up early (it was sunny), we booked a nearby Marriott Residence Inn at 21st and P Streets NW for the rest of our stay.  Because it was January, we had a choice of rooms and the one bedroom with a full kitchen was very functional and appealing.  Every successful adventure needs a practical home base.  What the Residence Inn lacked in flash made up for in its functionality and location, location, location. Plus, we were near a large independent grocer nearby and a host of local restaurants.

When traveling to NE America in winter, the whole trip is a weather craps shoot. (Yes, we dodged the proverbial weather bullet because less than a week later the blizzard of the decade hit the East Coast).  Understanding that we planned for indoor adventures.  Luckily the cold stuff stayed away for our entire week at the Nation's capital.  Now, we were free to visit the places that we couldn’t fit in on an earlier trip.  We took a simple stroll on the National Mall and along the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial.

View into the President's box at Ford's Theatre.  NHS photo
Soon my cold nose led us indoors to the awesome Ford’s Theater National Historic site experience.  
It was personally chilling to be able to view that fated theater box where an unspeakable assassin did his work.  Like most historical sites, Ford’s has a great book/gift store with amazing contemporary paints of Lincoln.  Don’t miss what they’ve done with the Peterson House across the street from the theatre.  There you see the pitifully small bed where our greatest President died.  The somber reality was lifted somewhat by the bookstore adjacent to the Petersen House, including its four story stack of books on the 16th President as an art treatment.
The International Spy Museum was another pleasant surprise.  We walked right in. No lines and enjoyed four hours that we fully expected to be only one.

Another example of why we appreciate winter travel in the East USA was how manageable the subway was.  (Tip: buy the Metro’s SmarTrip card and save even more time by not standing in line at the ticket vending machines).

Washington DC subway station  wmata photo
The Metro was its usual workaday busy but it was not compounded by the tourist hordes trying to figure out transfer points.  Didn’t see one student with five pieces of carry luggage clogging up the train. 

Speaking of tourists (certainly not us) we exited the Smithsonian Exit on the blue line and walked right up to the Washington Monument and stepped aboard the elevator to the top of the 555-foot architectural wonder.   How long was your wait at the Washington Monument? With the time saved by not standing in Disney-like lines we were able to fit in the splendid Union Station with its mall and restaurants.  
Interior of Union Station, Washington DC. Note January sunlight pouring
in through upper windows

We also saw sites we missed before, including high tea at the Henley Hotel (we were the only customers for a first rate experience); the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History; Building Museum and the Law Enforcement Memorial, the latter two important to us as an architect writer and a career district attorney prosecutor.

The previous week it had snowed in Washington and the chilly white stuff was aging on the side of roads, sidewalks and buildings.  I remembered to wear well broken in non-slip shoes and a heavy jacket with a hood to ward off spits of rain.  Seven days in January we saw four sunny days and virtually no rain and temperatures in upper 40s.  We took a dufflebag along filled with our winter gear.  It was worth the extra $25 bag charge on our airline because you need those big jackets, thermal long johns, scarves (two scarves were trendy) gloves, ear muffs and fluffy vests and poncho (the ones you roll into a ball).

We celebrated our good fortune on the last day by finding the Monocle, a venerable steak and seafood fare restaurant near the Capitol.  We arrived to a lightly crowded restaurant (it was 2:30 pm and the lunch crowd was back to work—or in the case of our elected officials back to gridlock).

Monocle manager Jennifer Davies kindly honored
a tourist request for a photo at the Kennedy table.
Monocle Manager Jennifer Davies was very pleasant to her visiting tourists and sat us upon our request at the front window in the bar overlooking the street.

Good choice, she said as we learned by reading a brass plaque at the table that this was the favorite table of Jack and Jackie Kennedy, when our late President was a Senator.  Another lucky star followed us in as we noticed the Monocle was participating in the local restaurant week.  We took serious advantage of the featured rib and salmon entrees respectively.

“...Since 1960, this old smoothie has been counseling decision-makers both Democrat and Republican in the wisdom of saying, “An empty stomach is not a good political advisor.” The Congressional Record may not show it but intentions are spoken here, alliances formed and deals sealed....”
                                    --The Washington Post

At the next table, Maitre d’ Nick Selimos, who has been at the Monocle 30 years was most cordial and over coffee and dessert he regaled us with many of his favorite stories over the years.  It was an unexpected delight and we are confident we caught him when he wasn’t crushed with business. “Come back when it’s more crowded,” he laughed (meaning if we wanted to view politicos and lobbyists).
The coffered dome of the Library of Congress (Jefferson Building),
divided in eight stucco panels, was designed bysculptor Albert Weinhart.
Luckily avoiding the politicos we ventured to the Library of Congress and stood in awe once more at the magnificence of the interior design and architecture.  It is one of the country’s truly amazing works of art.

Because our Washington Flyer driver was so first rate, we asked for his business card for the return trip to Dulles.  As called he showed up early.  A WF cabbie can only take you from Dulles into DC.  They cannot operate in DC unless you call the WF directly and request a pick up to airport.

Washington DC is remarkable.  Roll the dice try visiting in winter.  Plan for the foul weather and be treated if it turns out mild.  We got lucky with fair skies and so may you. And, our DC trip ended too soon but we were ready for the next one as we left Dulles aboard Turkish Airlines for a winter flight to Istanbul, but more on that Euro/Asian city in winter next month in this blog.

We ran into the same tourist couple but only this time at high tea at the historic Henley Park Hotel
Interior of the National Building Museum,
where many inaugural Balls are held.

There she is, again this time our favorite tourist is posed in the honored United States
Law Enforcement Memorial, just south of the National Building Museum