Tag Archives: travel

So you’re visiting Istanbul: read this

Istanbul-Bosphorus250MN052213After living in Istanbul for over two years, I’ve amassed a fair bit of advice and recommendations for visitors. Every few months, especially towards summer, I get emails from friends and friends-of-friends wondering what they should do with a day/week/month in the city. So rather than continue sending the same email around, I thought I’d collect everything I’ve written or forwarded into one post, from the general to the specific.

Google Map of my favorite Istanbul spots

Misconceptions about Istanbul: Chances are, if you are planning a trip to Turkey, you don’t think everyone rides camels and has a harem. But in case you have a nervous aunt, you can send her this post.

Istanbul in 2 days: my very quick-and-dirty advice for first-timers. A few updates:  if it’s a reasonable drinking hour, look for a rooftop bar to see the city instead of Galata Tower; Buyuk Hotel Londra is my favorite. Also, the Ortakoy mosque is under renovation, but the neighborhood is still fun to visit.

From EatingAsia.com: How to get the most out of Istanbul. Advice so great I wish I’d written it myself. They also have great stories about lesser-known spots all around Turkey, such a drool-worthy quest for anchovies.

Your Turkish food gurus are the good people at Istanbul Eats/Culinary Backstreets, with a blog, a book, an app, and excellent city tours to help you find amazing hole-in-the-wall eateries.

More great food tips from the Rome-based (but also well versed in Turkish food) Katie Parla, who now has a spiffy new app for the city.

Istanbul on and off the beaten path: A fairly standard list, but I wanted to compare the standard tourist attractions with some lesser-known spots.

Where to shop outside the Grand Bazaar: Note: the wonderful Kagithane House of Paper no longer has a shop in Galata, but they still have stores in Nisantasi and inside Bej Kahve in Karakoy.

Istanbul after dark Another oldie but goodie I wrote in my early months on Gadling, mostly to post about

Google map of my favorite places in Nisantasi

SantralIstanbul: One of my very favorite off-the-beaten-track museums. I last visited it with a friend when I was eight months pregnant and had the “brilliant” idea of taking the ferry. We hired a small boat to take us the rest of the way, and while sitting on the smelly Golden Horn with a strange and sketchy-looking man was less idyllic than imagined, it was an experience.

Eating kosher in Muslim Istanbul: Not relevant for too many visitors, and not the most useful post if you are hoping for a bevy of options, I’m afraid, but thought I’d share our experience with a past guest.

The Turkish Airlines deal that wasn’t

Note: I originally wrote this a year ago, but never published it. They run the same promo every year, in case your travel plans are less complicated.

This week, I discovered a stellar fare sale on Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to the United States (as well as many other destinations in Asia and Africa) for 999 euro in business class, 399 in coach, with a second passenger for just 1 euro more (even less for Europe and the Middle East). Aimed at Valentine’s Day travel, the departure dates all fall in the week leading up to February 14, and there are four US gateways for Turkish Airlines: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. As I’m due to fly to the US next month for a wedding in Austin, I jumped at the chance: $1300! In business!

The deal is only bookable by phone, and while I seemed to have some language issues with the Turkish reservation agent (“fare sale” and “campaign” was confusing, “promotion” was the magic word), she was helpful and patiently checked all the routes. New York and LA were sold out, but she managed to find a pair of seats nonstop to Chicago from February 14-22. The maximum stay for the deal is eight days, and while I hoped to spend more time home in the US, it would have to do. The grand total for two adults in business with all taxes and fees would come to a little over $2,000, at least $400 less than ONE business class seat from Istanbul to Chicago with a stopover on a less-preferable airline. I happily made the reservation with 24 hours to call back and purchase. $2000 for two! In business!

There was just one small problem: I’m traveling with my baby. When I spoke to the first reservation agent, she explained that I would have to purchase the baby’s seat for a non-promotional fare AT the airport and she couldn’t add her to the reservation. This seemed like a confusing and potentially expensive plan, but I figured I’d sort it out when I called back to ticket. On most airlines, lap infants pay 10% of adult fare for international flights (usually free on domestic flights) and a quick search online estimated this to be up to $500 for the same flights. But still: $2500 for a family! In business!

Though I booked the second seat in my husband’s name, I knew it was a long shot that he’d be able to travel with us, so I offered up the deal on Facebook. Not everyone is able to fly off to America for eight days with three weeks notice (especially for Turks who have to apply for advance visas), but I soon found a friend who thought she might be able to swing it. Sure, she wanted to visit New York and not Chicago, and I’d still have to book flights from Chicago to Austin to New York and back to Chicago, but those would cost under $500. $3000 to and around America! Some of it in business!

After a few frantic hours of searching hotels and domestic flight schedules, my friend reluctantly decided that she couldn’t go after all. We were disappointed, but I understood it was hard to make such big plans under pressure, and maybe we’d still find seats available closer to the date. Maybe I’d be able to just book the baby in the second seat, as ridiculous it sounded for a seven-month-old infant, it’d be cheaper to just eat the cost of the second seat than to book at regular price. Unfortunately, when I called back to book, I learned that the baby could not fly in the second seat, it would have to be an adult. Furthermore, we’d be looking at full fare for the two of us. $5000?! In business?!

More questions and searches by the reservation agent yielded that I COULD book the baby’s ticket at the airport or with the reservations office after booking, at a more reasonable $465 for her. The catch was that both adults on the promo fare would have to fly all legs of the trip, or the tickets would be canceled and the fare forfeited, so if I booked a ticket for another person who didn’t show, none of us would be flying. I briefly considered stopping random strangers on the street to see if they could fly to Chicago, until I decided it might be a sign. Maybe it wasn’t the right deal for us. Maybe I should wait to book tickets on flights I actually wanted, for the right time frame, when even my husband could fly with us. Then we’d really be in business.

Epilogue:  In the end, we booked tickets through Husband’s work, got stuck at the airport for 12 hours due to a strike in Frankfurt, missed the friend’s wedding in Austin, and spent a very quick weekend in NYC. But that’s another story…

Favorite reads of 2011

It’s the first day of the new year, and I may have missed the time for year-end lists, I wanted to first compile a list of my favorite articles and blog posts of 2011. Living in a foreign country and having a baby isn’t conducive to reading books (something I’m hoping to change in 2012, regardless of baby or country), but I do read a lot of blogs and online media. Getting an iPad this summer was the best pre-baby gift ever, since it means I can read in the dark during the many middle-of-the-night feedings, and I also recommend the Instapaper app for offline reading.  Thanks to the new Facebook timeline, I was able to review a lot of favorite links that I’ve posted, along with a search through Google chats, sent mail, and other archives.

In no particular order, these are the stories that I found most interesting, funny, thought-provoking, and forward/Twitter/Facebook/Google+/conversation-worthy:

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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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Lo zoo*

I am a fan of zoos. A zoo enthusiast. A large part of the reason I was interested in a graduate degree in physical anthropology was the dream that one day I would be at a zoo and they would page a primatologist. They would say “Doctor, thank God you are here, someone *must* feed this baby monkey with a bottle!” I would acquiesce, don my lab coat, and roll up my sleeves. Sometimes, in the dream, the baby monkey wears a bonnet.

At any rate, I love zoos. Especially foreign zoos. I don’t consider them places of cruelty, but places of conservation, of gentle and important research, of fun.  I’d like to say that zoos give a view into how a society views and treats animals, a glimpse into the behavior of local school groups, families, and couples (as a zoo may be a tourist attraction, but is rarely touristy). But really, I just love animals. Especially apes and monkeys. And bears. And llamas. And elephants.

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Istanbul hotels

Open ANY guidebook or ask ANYONE who’s ever been to Istanbul and you will hear about the wondrous Four Seasons, which was once a prison.  While I am as interested in former-prisons-turned-luxury-hotels as the next gal, every person who gives you this sage advice thinks they are the very first person to think of it, and that you will happily fork over the 400 euro a night to stay there.

Despite still holding a large cache of Marriott points, we didn’t use any lastyear, as the Marriott properties in Portugal and Istanbul weren’t well located for our purposes and rarely cost-effective, so we had to look elsewhere in the ‘Bul.  We shot nearly all of our Starwood points wad on 3 nights at the W Istanbul, which I was really excited about in the weeks leading up to our trip.  Perhaps because it was the holiday season (and even if Turks don’t celebrate Christmas, there are many Europeans who take holidays then), we didn’t find much in the way of great deals, and ended up booked our first 4 nights at the InterContinental at an advance purchase rate of a little under $100 USD per night, not including breakfast or Wifi.  Some notes on the hotels:

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