Lessons learned from preparing for move/bed bugs redux

All my worldly goods

I arrived Wednesday in Istanbul, carrying only two suitcases to live out of for the next five months or so. I took off last week from work in order to pack, clean, and try to purge some of the stuff we’ve accumulated in the last five years in the same apartment. But to make matters more difficult, I had another run in with bed bugs. You can read all about the first nightmare here, but in a nutshell, I went through the bed bug extermination in the bedroom last June when H was in Tokyo, involving umpteen loads of laundry and an apartment full of plastic bags. Our building has had some infestations again and they brought back the dog to inspect all apartments and our living room sofa and chair tested positive, though we had no bites or evidence of the bugs. So I spent the last week in packing and purging hell, having to clear out every item in the living room, including the hall closet and dining area. As a horrible housekeeper and sentimental packrat, this nearly led to the loss of sanity but I’ve emerged a little stronger and a lot leaner in possessions. The process for prepping for a bed bug extermination, moving to another part of town or another country, and packing for a long trip have a lot in common and I have essentially done all three simultaneously, and learned a few things along the way that could benefit others in the same situation.

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One week to Istanbul!

Many thanks for the many comments, emails, tweets, etc, on this blog, all very valuable and helpful! Some updates:

  • I leave for Istanbul on Tuesday, April 27! Flying Turkish Air, hoping for an upgrade since I’m flying a fully refundable coach ticket.
  • I’ll be in Milan May 6-10, staying at my cousin’s place and possibly our fabulous client Principe di Savoia with daytrips planned to Venice and the Lakes region.
  • I bought a Kindle and started loading it with Turkey travel guides, Stieg Larsson novels, and looking for epic novels.
  • My NYC fun list has been cut down due to the mammoth workload I have in my apartment, though I’m still planning on lunch at Peter Luger’s, Tim Burton MoMA exhibit, and a few others.
  • Why is my NYC fun list cut? I’m going through ANOTHER bed bug hell, this time in my living room. This means all the hundreds of books, winter coats, and unfinished projects have to be bagged and stored in another room. AHHH, it’s hard to contemplate, but it will get done somehow.
  • To my dismay, YouTube and WordPress are BANNED in Turkey. I have learned of a number of ways to get around this, including H’s VPN and numerous proxies, but I’ll update (hopefully) once I’m on the ground.
  • Due to the ash cloud, H had an interesting experience getting to Turkey. Original flight was routed through Kiev to Istanbul, but he ended up stranded in Moscow, unable to leave the airport due to lack of visa though he was born in Russia. On the plus side: he found himself drinking beers in the airport with Jeff Koons and Onyx!
  • We finished watching season 2 of Breaking Bad and started season 3, so good! I can continue on iTunes, any tips on watching Showtime/HBO shows online? I’ve resisted watching Treme so far because I know I might not be able to watch the whole season, but want to continue with Nurse Jackie and United States of Tara.
  • Lots of friends plan to visit me in Turkey over the summer, let me know if your plans take you there!

Back to the purging and packing..

TTFN, New York

When I moved to New York in February 1998, subway tokens were still in circulation, smoking was still allowed in bars, and almost no one had a cell phone, smart or otherwise.  Over the past 12 years, I’ve lived in 8 apartments in 2 boroughs, and held 12 jobs ranging from reservationist at now-defunct Tavern on the Green to art model at the Art Students’ League to temp at McKinsey. I’ve been ready to leave/terrified to move for the past few years, and now that my Istanbul move is imminent, I’m thinking about what I want to squeeze into my last two weeks (for now, anyway). In addition to massive amounts of cleaning, packing, and errands, I’ve added a few more fun things to my NYC to-do list:

  • Tim Burton exhibit at MoMA: everyone says you have to go early morning during the week if you have a prayer of having any space to breathe, so I’m planning a midweek visit next week to see it before it closes.
  • Charles Addams exhibit at Museum of the City of New York: I’ve always wanted to visit this museum, but have never made the trek, but this Charles Addams exhibit is the perfect excuse – I remember poring over his books of cartoons as a child, before I permanently associated Wednesday Addams with Christina Ricci.
  • Visit Statue of Liberty: I’m glad I was able to see the view from the World Trade Center years ago, and I’ve also been to the Empire State Building and the Rainbow Room, but never managed to get out to see the Statue of Liberty.
  • See a movie at the Ziegfield theater: I’m not all that jazzed about seeing Clash of the Titans, but I’ve always wanted to visit this old school movie palace.
  • Have lunch at Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn: I’ve actually never been to Peter Luger’s at all but rather than put a big, fancy dinner on the to-do list, I’d rather visit for a midweek lunch and get the elusive burger only available on the lunch menu.
  • Go to the Bronx Zoo for free Wednesday: I’ve been to the Bronx Zoo before, but not in years, and there are a few baby monkeys that require my attention. Wednesday is pay-what-you-wish, worth it for me to sit on the subway for an hour and a half to get there.

While there are many other museums I’d love to revisit and places I’d like to explore, I’m severely underplaying how much non-fun work I have to do before departure. Did I miss anything crucial? Anyone want to join any of my NYC expeditions? Leave a comment below.

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.

Staying connected in Turkey

New calling cards by the amazing Brooklyn Limestone.

Since I started thinking about my pending Istanbul move, after the initial excitement subsided, panic began to set in. How will I find English-language books to read?! Will I have to give up my beloved Android smartphone and my constant connection to Google?! How will I watch the final season of Lost?! I’ve spent weeks researching and pondering solutions and welcome any advice or input.

Books: Kindle or traditional?

I tend to read a lot, a book or two a week, and while that might change as I won’t have 1 hour+ commuting time anymore, I need access to new reading material regularly. Magazines and newspapers I can read online on my laptop, but books are another story. While I’m sure Istanbul has a few English-language bookshops, not sure how the selection and pricing will be, plus I don’t want to be amassing books while I’m living abroad. Kindle is the only e-reader you can use outside the US (to my knowledge) as long as you download on a computer with a US billing address and I’d appreciate the ability to carry multiple books (especially guidebooks) while traveling. Looking at pros/cons of each, I’m still undecided:

  • Kindle pros: large selection, low per-unit price, convenient for traveling, and no buildup of physical books. Cons: high initial price, not the same as actual books, unsure of technology and “feel,” and what if it gets lost or stolen?!
  • Book pros: Proven technology, English-language bookstore or exchange = instant community, no entry cost might add up to less over time, better reading experience. Cons: Higher per book price, less convenient to acquire and smaller selection.

(Legal) ways to watch American TV

I won’t be ashamed to admit I like TV, and I can get over the loss of DVR and set times that I expect to watch shows, but I’ve invested a few years in Lost and need to know how it ends. Also need to see how tragic the new Jersey Shore in Miami will end up. Not to mention 30 Rock, The Office, and the myriad Law & Order-type procedural dramas I watch. So I look to the internet to recommend the following:

  • Websites to download/watch shows outside of the US like Hulu (which doesn’t work abroad)
  • Long-running TV shows I can watch on DVD and pretend they are new. I’m catching up now with season 2 of Breaking Bad and working my way through Freaks & Geeks.

Phone and internet without roaming

H. and I both have T-Mobile’s myTouch Android phones and love the ability to use the internet, Gmail, Google Maps, and other fine products offered by Google. We can unlock our phones and go with Wi-Fi, but I need to read up on the finer points of buying SIM cards in Turkey, I’ve heard things that they limit the time you can use a foreign phone. I’ve set up a Google Voice number that can forward all calls to another number or just be used as voicemail in order to put on my personal “calling” cards shown above and can use Nimbuzz to use Skype on the actual mobile phone device, but welcome other ideas/tips/problems.

News with a capital N: I’m moving to Istanbul

This blog has been quiet for a few weeks while I’ve awaited updates on some big news: I’m moving to Istanbul, Turkey, as of next month. As readers may or may not know, my husband (known as H. as in husband) is a consultant with a Big Company. Big Company has a new client in Istanbul and he’s moving over for 5 months or so to work on the project. After he went to Japan last year for 4 weeks 3 months, I decided this time I was going along to experience expat life in a foreign city, after 12+ years in New York.

What am I going to do in Istanbul? I will remain with my PR agency working remotely, continuing media relations and reveling in my new role as social media curator (see our Facebook and forthcoming blog). Hopefully I’ll also meet with some potential new clients in Turkey and most certainly blog about my experience like it’s going out of style. One of the first things I did when I heard this potential news weeks ago was look up direct flights from Istanbul and began dreaming of weekend trips to Beirut, Damascus, Dubai, etc.

At this point, that’s all I know, though I hope in the coming weeks, I can develop more details and some sort of FAQ. And start learning some Turkish. Have connections in Turkey? Want to come visit? By all means, let me know.

Week of travel, social media, and being social with (travel) media

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking on a roundtable on travel and social media here in NYC along with travel/Twitter savants luxe travel planner Stacy Small, Kim Mance of Go Galavanting web travel videos, and Brian Simpson of Roger Smith Hotel, all moderated by AnneMarie Dooling from FrillSeekerDiary. Though I’ve gone to theater school and done comedy improv, I was nervous as hell before the panel, as it was hard to think and answer in a remotely insightful way about something I use mostly  to share animal videos and snarky comments, but I think it went well. Excellent recaps have been written up on Sosauce and GoBackpacking, I mostly talked about using social media (primarily Twitter) as a “watercooler” to talk with media/friends (the two groups overlap) about travel news, trends, and the odd viral video, sort of like note passing for adults who sit at desks all day.

The night after the roundtable, I organized a casual bowling night for some travel friends at Leisure Time Bowl in Port Authority (chosen for its central location and transportation offerings, but also rather spiffy). Why bowling? It started last fall when I happened to spend an afternoon bowling downtown and noticed a remarkably diverse crowd of bowlers: children’s birthday parties, NYU frat kids, hipsters, etc. I spoke to the waitress who told me it’s also popular with foreign travelers, particularly with kids, as bowling is the same in every language. This is just the sort of quirky travel fact that would appeal to my friend Robert Reid of Lonely Planet, so we began talking about a travel meetup/Tweetup with bowling. Good times ensued over a yard (or two) of beer, Bulgaria talk, and bowling lore. Shouts out to Paul Brady, who tried to teach me how to to do that leg lift thing that guys do when bowling; Erik Trinidad of the ever-brilliant Fancy Fast Food, who made sure nachos were ordered; Jauntsetter Dorothy with her sparkly new ring; Sean O’Neill of Budget Travel, who bowled an impressive turkey or two; Robert for being my Brooklyn subway home buddy, and Sam for spending part of his first trip to the US in a bus station.* Post script: While looking up the leg lift thing, I found this fascinating article on bowling for amputees, but the always-delightful Mary Roach.

That weekend, I found myself braving the snow to the Javits Center for the New York Times Travel Show to visit a few clients with booths on the showroom floor, attend a few seminars, and avoid the swag-grabbing masses. Last year, I took H. along to the show who made me sign up for every free trip at the show, causing me hours of time “unsubscribing” to newsletters and emails the following week. Also last year, I saw a sloth at the Busch Gardens booth and it started an obsession (who knew they were so cuddly and sweet looking?!), but this year I only spotted some penguins (arguably cuter, but much more common). Travel swag and animal displays aside, I attended a few seminars of interest: What do Women Want in Travel? and Travel Through the Eyes of Travel Writers. The audiences and messages could not have been more different: women apparently want security, bonding with other women, and some sort of indulgence (i.e. spas, Italian food) and travel writers like to get to know a place by getting lost, drunk, and friendly with locals. Of course, that’s a massive generalization but I almost wished that the two groups could have listened to each other: maybe the 60-year-old widow traveling independently for the first time *should* try riding a public bus or visiting France just for the cheese, and maybe the travel writer should spend a weekend doing a cooking class with a multi-generational family to see how and why the vast majority of non-industry people travel.

After a visit to meet and pet Mike Barish’s new dog Heath (hey buddy, hope you are less scared next time!), I rounded out the night with David Farley’s Restless Legs Reading Series, which I’ve attended with religious fervor for the past year and a half. Blogger Chris Gray Faust wrote up a great post about it here (I’m happy to have been the person who invited her), and notes how Farley called it an “after party” for the NYT Travel Show. It’s a good analogy in general for the series, while I’ve gone to drink and chat with dozens of writers over the series, I don’t see it as a networking event as much as a chance to be introduced to travel writing I may not have known about and talk with like-minded people. As much as social media has given me a way to meet journalists and other travelers it’s never going to take the place of happy hour or making an ass of yourself in rented shoes.

*Lack of bowling shout outs for Rachel, Greta, Anna, Ashley and Chris due to lack of blogs to link to, doesn’t mean I don’t love you or you did not impress me with your fine bowling skills! The two strikes bowled in the 10th frames bowled by Rachel are not likely to be forgotten in this lifetime.

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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New (blog) home

After several years of erratic blogging on Vox, I decided to bit the bullet with an official domain to embrace the silly internet username I’ve used since Biggie Smalls died. I’m anticipating some big adventures this year and intend to document frequently.

At least, more frequently than usual.