Category Archives: travel

Knocked up abroad: into the home stretch

If you’ve been following me on any sort of medium that I update regularly, you’ll know that I’m expecting a baby here in July (just under 7 weeks away now!). H and I haven’t quite decided on what to call this baby girl yet, referring to her as Rasputina or the Young Turkess (though she’ll be as Turkish as I am, which is to say, not at all). I’ve been documenting the pregnancy on Gadling on a series of posts called “Knocked Up Abroad,” a name inspired by our favorite documentary series ever and conceived long before the actual baby. Here’s a recap of the posts so far:

As I head into the home stretch and don’t have any further travel on the horizon, I’m debating on what to post next. I’ll have plenty to share about childbirth and traveling with a young baby (we are already planning trips when she’s 6 and 10 weeks) but not for another few months. My third-trimester travel consists mostly of subway rides to the grocery store, though the Southeast Asia trip was right on the cusp of seven months. I’ve yet to do any actual baby shopping as I haven’t decided on what we need and it’s baffling enough for a first-timer, let alone in a foreign language, but that might come up. Also have been thinking about attitudes toward pregnant women and babies in various countries (Turks LOVE the babies, New Yorkers can’t be bothered to give you a subway seat and sigh loudly at the sight of a stroller), though I’m reluctant to start any debate after reading all the hateful comments on my first post. Anything you’d like to read about being pregnant abroad?

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Now even more Notorious on Gadling

As of today, I’m pleased to join the team of one of my favorite travel blogs, Gadling.com. I’ll be writing about the Istanbul expat experience as well various/sundry travel news. I’ll still be posting updates on this blog regularly but please feel free to subscribe to my Gadling RSS feed here. My first posts included a Q & A on my travel favorites and a look at expat bloggers and how they can help travelers. Stay tuned for more!

Newly discovered travel resources

Summer is officially on in Istanbul and I’m in high travel-planning mode, with trips planned to beach town Bodrum tonight, Kosovo (long story) next weekend, a weekend in late July to a neighboring country, and a weeklong TBD trip in August for my 30th birthday. In addition to my usual methods of obsessive research (see this Jauntsetter post I wrote last year), I’ve found a number of new resources enormously useful:

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Discovering Istanbul as a tourist

Just another day at the office

Thanks all for reading and commenting on my pity-party post, I wanted to dispell the myth that I’m sitting languidly at a cafe and having charming shopping expeditions to local fish markets.  After two weeks in the city (first at the airport and now in an apartment), I’m starting to adjust to living in limbo a foreign country. A week in an airport hotel made me a crackerjack Istanbul transit user, well-acquainted with all of the hotel staff, and adept at running across highways, and now we’ve been moved to an apartment in Nisantasi for at least the rest of the month. I went to Milan for a few days and returned to Turkey with my mother to play tourist for much of last week, along with running the many errands that come along with settling into a new place. Unfortunately, the internet in the apartment building was down for much of last week, making any updates infrequent and my “to look up when I have internet” list a mile long. Every day as a new expat is a series of major and minor fails, a few satisfying wins, all in a constant state of bafflement and very different from just visiting a city.  More on life as a new expat to come, but first a few observations/discoveries from my time as a tourist here.

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Mary G.’s Grand Tour

While I spent much of my childhood on family trips around New England and the US, save a trip to New Zealand with my mother at age 8, I didn’t really become a world traveler until age 24 and have been accumulating passport stamps as often as possible ever since.

My mother Mary, on the other hand, has never been to Europe but due to my Istanbul move, that’s going to change next month.  To sweeten the deal, I have a cousin in Milan who is moving back to New Zealand over the summer, so now is our last chance to visit a family member in Italy. Originally, we thought about adding London to the trip, as a Europe “warm-up” and a place she’s always wanted to visit, but decided 3 countries was too much for 2 weeks. Besides, the trip is more about visiting family living abroad than seeing the top cities of Europe.

Now that my move and my mother’s trip are imminently approaching, I’m heavily into planning mode. A tentative itinerary:  Mary would fly from Raleigh, NC, arriving in Milan on a Thursday in May. I’d follow the next day, and stay through Monday or Tuesday. We’d then fly together to Istanbul and she’d stay 5 nights with me and return home Istanbul-Raleigh. Some thoughts/questions:

  • Any recommendations for airline booking sites best for open-jaw tickets? I generally use Kayak and was recommended the excellent Skyscanner.com for intra-Europe flights, but always on the lookout for other ideas.
  • Skyscanner found me a gonga deal on the Milan-Istanbul flight: $60 on budget airline Blu Express, any feedback on the airline or how to get from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport to downtown?
  • We definitely plan to see the Last Supper and see an opera at La Scala in Milan, other must-sees for first-time visitors? Day trips from Milan?
  • In terms of timing, any advantage to booking the trip for early May rather than mid-May? Since I’ll be arriving in Turkey the last week of April, I’d rather have a few weeks to get acquainted before hosting visitors but if the cost difference for hotels is significant, I could be flexible.
  • Finally, I’m looking at hotels for Milan and possibly Istanbul (in case we aren’t settled in an apartment) and open to ideas. Worth using some Marriott points for the Milan Marriott?

Any and all advice for a European first-timer is appreciated. Though it won’t be my first time to Italy, it will be my first time in Milan, and my once semi-fluent Italian is quite rusty, my hand-gesturing is almost native. I’m excited to experience two fantastic countries with someone experiencing Europe for the first time.

Edited to add: Fantastic linkage and advice from Jessica of http://www.italylogue.com: a must-read for anyone visiting Italy!

Looks like you’re talking about a 4-5 day stay in Milan, yes? That’s definitely time to get all the highlights in, plus take a day-trip (or two, if you end up hating the city!). I happen to really like Milan, but I’m looking at it from the perspective of someone who’s planning to live there – and I’m the first to admit it’s not ideal for most tourists in Italy.

Having said that, I do think it’s absolutely Italian – it’s just not the “Tuscan sun” side of Italy. 🙂

Anyway, I’ve written quite a bit about Milan, so here are some articles that should help get you started:
* General Milan travel guide, with lots of links to other Milan-related articles: http://www.italylogue.com/milan
* My suggestions on the top 10 things to do in Milan: http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/top-10-things-to-do-in-milan.html
* Information about seeing The Last Supper (warning: get your tickets ASAP!): http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/the-last-supper.html
* Going to the La Scala Museum: http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/la-scala-in-milan-its-not-just-for-opera-lovers.html
* A few options for day trips from Milan: http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/day-trips-from-milan.html (which reminds me, I need to update this article)

Other Milan thoughts:
* I’d recommend staying in the city center, if for no other reason than it’s close to the things you’ll want to do/see and it’s a helluva lot prettier than the outskirts (although the outskirts are cheaper). Really, even some parts that can be called “city center” are kinda meh looks-wise (around Garibaldi station, for instance), but again, this isn’t “Tuscan sun” Italy… And hey! Look at that cathedral! Now THAT is pretty, eh?
* Milan is (in my opinion) Italy’s most international city, so you’ll run into plenty of English-speakers (your Italian may come back to you, but the English might be nice for your mom).
* Having someone you’re visiting who’s familiar with Milan (your cousin) will help you steer clear of the so-so food and whatnot, I’m guessing, which is never a bad thing. But do yourself a favor – seek out Il Massimo del Gelato (you can read about it on the Tour del Gelato on my friend Sara’s blog, link below) and get a scoop of the mango flavor. You will be transported. I promise.

On Monday the 5th, I have another Milan article set to publish – “Things You Should Know About Milan” – so that’s one I’d also recommend you take a look at… When it’s live, of course. 🙂

Other thoughts:
* My friend Sara Rosso (@rosso on Twitter) blogs at Ms. Adventures in Italy (http://www.msadventuresinitaly.com/blog/) – she lives in Milan and has some good Milan info on her site.
* Another expat friend is Katie Parla (@katieparla on Twitter). She lives in Rome, but is a guidebook author for both Roma AND Turkey, so she’s got you covered on both counts.
* Another blogging friend, Melanie Renzulli (@italofileblog on Twitter), lived in Turkey for a couple of years. I think she just moved back to the US within the last year or so, so she might be another good source of Turkey info.

Weekending upstate

For President’s Day weekend, H. and I took a last-minute trip out of the city with another couple friend of ours.  This was partially precipitated by the fact that H. has a Cadillac rental car for work, which last happened in October, coincidentally when we made our first trip upstate to Saugerties. I had lived in New York for nearly 12 years before I first visited the Catskills, previously known to me as where Baby carried a watermelon. Though our travels have tended towards the exotic/urban/coastal, I’ve come to really love visiting upstate and hope to return for spring and summer. Some notes on where we stayed and what we did on two very different but proximate trips.

Fall – In Town

Main Street, Saugerties

Our first trip upstate was the classic fall foliage pilgrimage (I called our trip “New Yorker eats, shoots leaves!”), we based ourselves in Saugerties partially due to the recommendation of Budget Travel magazine, who included in their list of America’s coolest small towns. We stayed at the Inn at Cafe Tamayo, perfect for trolling the antique stores, eating and drinking in any of the cute local cafes (Bud. Travel was spot-on about Love Bites), or catching a movie. Fall was also a great time for hiking and walking, both out in the forests and state parks and in more urban settings. See this Google map link I created to document the trip for more recommendations, links and pix.

Winter – Out of Town and Inside

We bit the bullet on a February weekend in chilly upstate when a room came available at Kate’s Lazy Meadow Motel. The Lazy Meadow is owned by one of the B-52’s (no, it never gets old playing Love Shack when you are there) and is high on the retro kitsch factor.  Our cabin had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a fireplace, and a full kitchen – perfect for four people who had no plans other than playing board games, eating, and sitting by the fire. Which is not a bad way to spend a weekend, but look elsewhere for skiing or winter sports, our most physical activity was lugging groceries (and, uh, bottles of wine) to the car. Winter in the Catskills is a much different beast than fall and while we wandered some of the same towns as in October, they felt different, full of locals and some skiers instead of foliage-seeking city daytrippers.  A few favorite places and things from when we managed to leave our room in no particular order:

  • Whiskey tasting at Tuthilltown Spirits: I’m not even a whiskey drinker but it was fun to stop off at this historic distillery and taste locally made booze. We missed the actual tour, but came away with some baby bourbon, some New York apple vodka, and a buzz that lasted the rest of the drive (don’t worry, our driver abstained).
  • Lunch and antiquing in New Paltz: I’ve heard New Paltz referred to as the poor man’s Boulder (due to abundance of fleece and sporty college kids) and my first time upstate I was a little underwhelmed by it, I started to feel it on this trip after a surprisingly great lunch at Harvest Cafe and browsing the stuff at the Antiques Barn (where I’ve starting building a collection of photos taken with my phone of odd animal paintings).  Continued kicking myself for not buying the 1950s black and white “dentist’s” cabinet I planned to store all my travel guidebooks, notes, and ephemera that I saw last time upstate.
  • Dinner at Peekamoose: Great food, cozy spot in a pretty setting, plus a name that’s fun to say! Not cheap, but good for a celebratory meal, or at least as a break during an epic long Monopoly game. Actually, I don’t know of any Monopoly game that is not epic.
  • Breakfast at Sweet Sue’s in Phoencia: Big on a lot of people’s must-try lists, we were lucky not to wait long as we went after noon on President’s Day.  It was hard to narrow down just one thing to eat on the menu, I went with the special of carrot cake pancakes and was not disappointed. While in Phoenicia, be sure to poke around the Mystery Spot and try to convince your husband you need a Russian princess wool coat with matching hat, along with some guy’s Cultural Ambassador certificate from the 1939 World’s Fair.
  • Steve’s Fabulous Furniture on 28: We all rubbernecked the sculptures on this lawn as we passed by on Route 28 to Lazy Meadow, and had to come back to ogle the art further. The website doesn’t do his stuff justice, the store and lawn outside are full of cool stuff made from vintage Cadillacs, metal, wood, and other stuff. The owner and artist is a bit of an eccentric, I think we passed the test due to our (non-vintage but still sort of fabulous) rental Caddy.

Thanks for advice, recommendations, warnings, and inspiration from Alexander Basek, David Landsel, and Jauntsetter. I’ll add in some photos at some point.

A few favorite places

While importing all of my old blog content from Vox this week (and trying not to go back and edit myself), I had a chance to look back at some of my favorite trips. While I can’t say that I have absolute favorites (partially since I rarely make repeat visits internationally since there are so many places I want to visit), there are a few spots that stand out.

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