Archive | Travel RSS feed for this section

Guest Post – How to Accidentally Only Spend $5 in 5 Days in Istanbul

23 Mar

This post is written by Emily Behar, my fellow Portu-gal, during her recent trip to Istanbul. Enjoy!

I’ve been in Istanbul for three days and so far have spent only $3 – now I’m on a mission to make it 5 days on $5! (Suck it Seth Kugel!)

I arrived in Istanbul on Saturday and spent the day browsing around Beyoglu – the trendy, modern part of town. Istiklal Caddesi is the main drag, filled with international standards: starbuck, sephora, Armani, and a surprising amount of Tommy Hilfiger knockoff stores. (Niffy – your more fashion-forward self might be able to explain the Tommy Hilfiger phenomena. I don’t get it). I grabbed a sandwich for $1 (the English on the menu translated to ‘scrambled lamb,’ but whatever it was, it was delicious). Other than that, I just browsed, bought nothing.

I ventured out to dinner Saturday night, and after painfully trying to navigate Istanbul’s side streets, I found Asmali Cavit – a very cute restaurant that had been recommended to me by a friend (and mentioned in this nytimes article). The restaurant, however, was full. Defeated, I left when, wait! The owner of the restaurant chased me down and said that 3 customers had invited me to join their table. I crossed my fingers that they wouldn’t kidnap or kill me, and took them up on their offer. I spent the night eating and drinking with an American expat, her Turkish husband, and their 60 year old scruffy Parisian friend Pierre. They ordered me everything on the menu, demanding that I have an authentic Turkish dining experience. By the end of the night, I was filled with food and sufficiently drunk off raki and they wouldn’t let me pay!

On to Sunday: spent the day in the old city visiting the mosques and bazaars. I didn’t buy anything out of principle against the vendors’ incessant squawking.

After a day of walking, I ate a delicious fish sandwich by the boats on the Golden Horn – fishermen catch the fish and grill it on the boat then throw it on a hoagie roll with some lettuce and onions. Bones, scales, skin and all. I think Amoroso’s has a secret pact with the Turkish government to share their bread supply – the rolls are identical. I got sick Sunday night, which was a bummer, but at least I didn’t spend any $ on dinner! At this point, it’s two days and I’ve spent $2.

Monday: The day’s adventure was out of walking distance and I needed a metro card (which was going to throw off my up-until-this-point practically free trip). But while chatting with the cook at breakfast about her crepes (did I mention that breakfast at my B&B is free, huge and delicious), she told me that she wasn’t using her metro card for the day and promptly gave it to me. Score! I had free access to all the trams, buses and funiculars. Bought another street sandwich ($1) for lunch, this time it was a chicken kabab. I walked to Ortakoy to catch an afternoon boat ride up and down the Bosporus, but made a tactical error and forgot to check what time the boats leave. I was stuck waiting for 2 hours. The only thing around was a book vendor so I bought an Agatha Christie book (slim pickings, don’t judge), which set me back another $0.75.

That night I went to dinner with Murat (the owner of my b&b aka my best friend). He took me to a restaurant that seemed very ordinary at first – but he walked us through the kitchen, kissing and hugging all the chefs, and two floors up a secret staircase to a weird mess hall filled with Turks and cigarettes and raki and live music and strangely no roof. He ordered me everything from spicy shrimp, to anchovies, eggplant dip, unidentifiable fish, fried cheese, meat-filled pastries, some weird seaweed concoction, and of course an always full glass of raki. At the end of the meal, Murat wouldn’t let me pay.

The streak continues!

Resolutions for the Year of the Dragon

4 Jan

According to a random website I googled about Chinese Zodiac signs, 2011 was the year of the rabbit.

2011 was cute, furry and a little gamey. This year it is all about the dragon; a fire-breathing, ass kicking, but hopefully not scaley, dragon.

Last year my resolutions were ok – blog, travel, feel proud of myself, blah blah blah. While I achieved many of these goals, I unfortunately failed to even attempt my most basic resolution which was to learn how to poach an egg. Its ok though, poached eggs were so the year of the rabbit, for the year of the dragon my resolutions are:

  • Workout twice a week (ha, yea right…except I already went to Pilates and just signed up for a non-refundable boot camp so breathe my fire!!!)
  • Do not buy any clothing for the first 3 months of the year
  • Eat more oysters, sushi, and vegetarian dishes
  • Travel, travel, travel. Fingers crossed for a big trip to Greece and Turkey, or to Spain.
  • Update this blog once a week at least. Last year I had a few gaps but definitely an improvement from 2010 (the year of the tiger)

So if you see me in 2012, hopefully I will be wearing the same clothes as last year, looking fit, and slurping down an oyster on the Aegean sea.

Happy New Year!

Stoney Creek Farm

16 Nov

Sometimes this die hard city girl needs a nature break. It is extremely rare, but every now and again I crave fresh air, a good hiking trail and a farm animal thrown in for good measure. If I can get all of this and a claw foot bathtub then even better. Luckily I was able to tap into my inner country gal at Stoney Creek Farm – a gorgeous bed and breakfast an hour west from DC.

A horse at Stoney Creek Farm

I was looking for a great bed and breakfast nearby to go with my boyfriend, but so many places looked like they were decorated by Laura Ashley’s grandmother. Seriously, what is with matching cabbage rose printed wallpaper, drapes and bedding – is this a prerequisite for opening a B&B?

Stoney Creek Farm is the antithesis of chabby chic – it was modern and rustic. The proprietors are a brother and sister duo who are super helpful, make great breakfasts (caramelized banana french toast – yum!) but otherwise stayed out of our hair and let us enjoy our weekend.

During our stay we went to Antietam National Battlefield, the site bloodiest one day battle in American history, and also hiked in Cactoctin Mountain Park.

One of many memorials at Antietam

Burnside's Bridge where the Confederacy and Union armies clashed

Nearby cornfield

We had great weather the whole weekend and it was wonderful to escape the city, peep some changing leaves and get outside. The entire experience has me thinking that I might need to go country a little more often.

Breezing into the Windy City

10 Oct

Sometimes you visit your friends because you miss them, sometimes you visit because you are hungry and other times you visit because you happen to love the city they relocated to, but don’t want to visit during the 8 imminent months of bad weather.

Luckily I was able to check off all three of these reasons on a recent trip to Chicago to visit my best friend.

Classic bean shot at Millenium Park

Dinner at Girl and the Goat

I have been to Chicago once before and had done most of the touristy stuff (blech, deep dish pizza), so this trip to Chicago was all about maximum fun. Other than rekindling an important ladymance there were several highlights, mostly consisting of eating our way through Wicker Park and Lincoln Park.

A few of the things I ate that I loved:

  • XOCO – See picture for the chilequilles, basically a breakfast nacho feast. Make sure to get there early and don’t miss the churros!
  • Big Star Tacos – Get one of everything, trust me.
  • Girl and the Goat – Dinner was delicious but by far the foie gras marshmellow was the most heavenly thing I have ever eaten. It sounds disgusting and it kind of is…in a good way.
  • Publican – Fresh off a harrowing train ride from O’hare I went straight to this meatapalooza.
  • Crisp – Best Korean fried chicken EVER!
  • Maude’s Liquor Bar – My enjoyment of my drink was slightly hampered by an older fat gentleman toppling off his bar stool. The drinks are that good!

Chilequiles at Rick Bayless' XOCO

One non-food related highlight was the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s boat tour. The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and taught me a lot about different architectural styles, however it was her handling of a drunk passerby that really impressed me.

View of the famous Corn Cob buildings from the Architecture Foundation boat tour.

As we passed under one of Chicago’s many bridges a clearly inebriated man flipped our boat the double bird and began screaming obscenities. With great aplomb our docent smiled and said, “I have been doing this for a long time and that has never happened to me before. Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, Mies van der Rohe and his right angles…” Gotta love a professional!

One last look at the Chicago skyline

Can’t wait to visit again (but not until the city is over 60 degrees and sunny)!

Seattle – Markets, Parks and Kayaks

27 Aug

Puget Sound from Pike Place Market

From Portland we traveled to Seattle via Amtrak. As a frequent rider of Amtrak’s Northeast regional rail I had heard whisperings of the Cascade train – a mythical train that was glamorous yet comfortable and far less expensive than your typical DC to NY ride. This rumor proved to be true although I should warn you that there are several other differences between West coast and East coast Amtrak. East coast Amtrak I arrive 5 minutes before my train departs and then jostle for a seat. West coast Amtrak has ASSIGNED seats (I had  a similar realization in Portugal). Luckily this time there was no language barrier induced confusion but due to our late arrival we were seated backwards, not a tragedy but still a bummer since the scenery is the best part of the trip!

Once we arrived in Seattle we checked into our hotel and then made an immediate beeline to a sushi happy hour we heard great things about at Umi Sake House. After consuming my weight in Korean-style ribs (I don’t love sushi), we wandered around downtown Seattle and found ourselves right at Olympic Sculpture park during a fun summer nights festival. It was the perfect summer evening – music, an ice cream truck and a gorgeous sunset.

Outdoor concert taking place at the sculpture garden

Love & Loss

Richard Serra and an unnamed visitor

The next day we hung out in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, enjoying a picnic in Volunteer Park with sandwiches from Baguette Box (get the drunken chicken!) Other than the the lazy day in the park and a visit to the Arboretum the main highlight of Capitol Hill was the salt store I came across called Sugarpill.

Technically it was an apothecary but I did not even notice the herbal teas and burning incense because they had over 100 different varieties of salt. For those that know me I am extremely addicted to sodium and this store was my mecca. I am not exaggerating when I say I spent an hour sampling all of the salts before settling on a smoking salt, a white truffle salt, a red clay salt and an Australian finishing salt. My blood pressure is skyrocketing just remembering the experience.

Salt nirvana!!!!!!!!!!!!

After my head nearly exploded from sodium overdrive, I knew I needed some fresh veggies in my diet. The following day we went to Pike Place Market. In the words of  my mom, “big, fucking, deal.” As a lover of farmer’s markets and a devotee of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal, I honestly found Pike Place market kind of blah. I expected to find more places to eat and sample, but really its just fish and produce stalls. Great if you want to shop for a meal but not if you want to eat your way through several city blocks. That being said I did buy some smoked fish to take home with me (why doesn’t DC have kippered salmon?!) and devoured my weight in Mt. Rainier cherries.

Mmmm lobster

Goes well with smoked fish

After Pike Place I dropped off my haul at the hotel and then went kayaking on Lake Union. Renting a boat is really easy although I recommend making a reservation in advance since it was a popular choice. The lake was really beautiful and there were plenty of boaters and water sport enthusiasts hanging out and enjoying the gorgeous day. There is lots to see along the lake including Gas Works Park, but my favorite were the house boats. I fantasized about living in one of these homes but then a quick Zillow search made me realize these homes were out of my reach, even in my dreams.

Paddle surferes and the Space Needle

Lake Union houseboats. Move-in date TBD

Other highlights of the trip include a delicious dinner at Tavolta, walking around the “Republic of Fremont,”amazing brunch at Macrina and a visit to the Seattle Art Museum.

Exploding car installation at SAM

Overall I had a great time in Seattle – this part of our trip was more free form and relaxing- unlike my usual travel style of planning everything to the hilt. I also really enjoyed taking advantage of the city’s comprehensive public transportation and did not take a cab the entire trip (gasp!) The amazing weather definitely gave me a positive impression of the Emerald City…there was not a drop of rain our entire trip and my preconceived notion of a grungey gray city was totally turned on its head. Hope to visit again soon!

Portland – City of Roses, Doughnuts and Gorgeous Gorges

26 Aug

After a quick flight from San Francisco we hopped on the train from the airport and arrived in downtown Portland. After dropping off our stuff at the Ace Hotel (affectionately known as the Deuce Hotel in the series Portlandia) we headed over to Portland’s #1 tourist attraction, Powell’s Books.

Lobby at the Ace Hotel

Powell's Books. Four floors of independently owned reading goodness.

When a city’s main attraction is an independent bookstore you are in for a pretty hip and unusual visit, which is exactly what we had. After wandering around Powell’s for an hour or so and stealthily copying down the information for where we were going to hike the next day, we headed out to explore the rest of the city. We met up with a friend for a few beers at Bridgeport Brewery and ended up staying for dinner and just enjoying the scene.

The next morning we walked to pick up our rental car and check out the infamous Voodoo Doughnuts. EVERYONE said we had to try Voodoo and so when we walked by with no line, we popped right in and ordered two of the most cholesterol clogging, blood pressure skyrocketing, lard heavy pastries on the menu and perhaps the planet.

Getting ready for my angioplasty

Yup, that is a bacon maple doughnut. I wanted to like it, but honestly it was disgusting. Don’t get me wrong I love doughnuts and devoured the plain glazed one we ordered, but the bacon doughnut was too much. (Which is ironic since two of my favorite foods in college were bacon and doughnuts. Seriously, I would regularly make at least half a pack of bacon for myself and then scarf down powdered doughnuts. It was a weird phase.) After consuming enough calories to wipe out a famine, we hopped in our rental car and headed out to hike Lookout Mountain along the Columbia River Gorge.

Lookout Mountain gained its moniker because you can see all the other major mountains in the area including Mt. Ranier and Mt. Hood from its peak. The drive out to our hike was beautiful and once we got 10 minutes outside of the city we were driving along the Columbia River Gorge deep in a valley of evergreen trees. Getting to Lookout Mountain was not easy – we drove along a paved, gravel and then dirt road and several times thought we were lost. Fortunately we reached our destination after two hours of picturesque driving and embarked on our hike. The trip was well worth it.

Cascade Mountain Range

View of Mount Hood from the top of Lookout Mountain

After our hike we drove back to Portland, stopping at Multnomah Falls to checkout the waterfall. Once in Portland we decompressed from our hike and then headed to Pok Pok, a Thai restaurant that is not to be missed. Pok Pok serves traditional Thai dishes that are lovingly executed by James Beard award winning chef Andy Ricker. The restaurant does not take reservations but luckily you can put your name down and then walk across the street to sister establishment Whiskey Soda Lounge and try some of their signature cocktails laced with drinking vinegars. After about a half an hour, we were called to the restaurant and enjoyed the most amazing chicken wings and curry I have ever tasted. Days later I am still thinking about those wings.

The next day we drove south to Oregon wine country in the Willamette Valley. We stopped for lunch in the quaint little town of McMinnville at Sage Restaurant, and then made our way to a few wineries. The Willamette Valley is known for their Pinot Noirs and we got to taste a few at the first winery ever built in the area, Eyrie Vineyards. If you stop by make sure you request a tour from Jacques the French proprietor who taught us a lot about barrel types and wine mold. Good times!

Stoller Vineyards

From Eyrie Vineyards we made our way to Stoller Vineyards, a LEED certified family run winery with incredible views. We tried a few Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, then took a walk around the property. You better believe I tested out that tire swing!

On our way back from wine country I became famished (surprise, surprise) and suggested we stopped by Apizza Scholls, a fanatical pizzeria with a notoriously long wait that mixes their dough by hand. Apizza Scholls is in the Hawthorne neighborhood which is definitely the hippiest area of Portland. We had an early dinner at 5 and then walked around afterwards to find many of the shops closed. One sign said that they opened at “12ish” which I came to realize was a pretty classic Portland attitude. Do a little work, hang out at a microbrewery, go kayaking – folks out there certainly enjoy their lifestyle.

As the sun began to set we finished our final night in Portland at the International Rose Test Garden.

Rose Garden

The garden is filled with hundreds of varieties of roses, each one more exquisite than the next. We went in the evening and there were and handful of people there, I would definitely recommend going later in the day since I hear that crowds can be overwhelming. I have never been a huge rose fan, usually because I associate the flower as being a generic Valentine’s Day gift, but the many different kinds of tea roses and heritage flowers were eyeopening.

Karl Lagerfeld's official rose

Definitely the girliest moment of the trip

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Portland. I was least excited about this leg of the trip and I was blown away by the beauty of the area, the friendliness of the people and the yumminess of the food…I loved it!

Stay tuned for the final leg of our journey – Seattle

San Francisco – Inside the Bay Area and Outside Lands

24 Aug

As is my new custom to take off a week in August, I planned a 10 day trip throughout the Pacific Northwest with my boyfriend beginning in San Francisco.

I know what you are thinking…San Francisco is not in the Pacific Northwest, and you are right. Unfortunately I did not realize this until after the tickets were purchased and I looked on a map and realized that SF was hundreds of miles away from our other destinations – Portland and Seattle. I am from the East Coast and went to a hippie school where we never memorized anything but our feelings, so geography is not my forte.

Luckily this little longitudinal mishap ended up working in our favor when we realized that our trip to San Francisco coincided with Outside Lands, a music, wine and food festival.  A bunch of our friends were also coming to town for Outside Lands and so we ended up hanging out in San Francisco during the day, and then in the afternoon making our way over to the festival to catch Foster the People, Ellie Goulding, Phish, The Black Keys, Major Lazer and Arcade Fire among many others.

My first Phish concert. Basically a light show with musical accompaniment

I am not the biggest music fan (I had never heard a lot of the bands until my friend Angie filled me in) but I had a blast at the festival. My experience was heavily augmented by the food that was available thanks to local businesses that catered the event. I may have missed Girl Talk but I certainly did not miss the porchetta sandwiches, tacos, grilled corn and many other treats available.

Other than the people watching at Outside Lands, which was absolutely bananas, the craziest thing about the experience was leaving the shows every night. 60,000+ people a night were all trying to catch the same 5 cabs in the middle of nowhere. The festival was held in Golden Gate park which I assumed would be right by the Golden Gate bridge. Once again I failed to look at a map and was woefully incorrect about our whereabouts. Golden Gate park was nowhere near the bridge and also very out of the way from our hotel and most transport options.

This snafu led to creative ways home including a limousine filled with Phish fans, a livery cab and a random van that picked up passengers via craigslist (sorry mom). Each journey resulted in many comic adventures that overall added to the bizarre and fun experience that was Outside Lands.

When I was not stuffing my face and bopping to the music at Outside Lands I was exploring San Francisco thanks to some of our local friends.

Dolores Park and the San Francisco Skyline

I went to my first authentic Dim Sum place, hung out in the Mission, Watched Jaws in Dolores Park, Gorged myself at the Ferry building, saw the seals on Pier 39 and even managed to get myself locked inside a late night Korean restaurant.

Ferry Building ceiling

Locavore porn at the Ferry Building.

After too many porchetta sandwiches this is what I looked like

Overall I had a great time in San Francisco. It helped that we had amazing weather – it was sunny and warm every day – but I really enjoyed the friends, food and general vibe of the city. I wish I could have spent more time exploring but Outside Lands was totally worth it. Thanks to Max, Denise and Morgan who showed us around town, hopefully next time we can spend more time in the city!

A few recommendations if you are in the Bay Area

  • Hotel Adagio – our hotel was conveniently located near Union Square but not smack dab in the middle of the tourist mayhem. Cute coffee shops and sushi places were abundant and we were close to public transportation.
  • Bar Tartine – charming and delicious brunch. We did not have the patience to wait in line at sister bakery Tartine but it didn’t matter, my french toast was damn good. One friend commented that San Franciscans love to wait in line and this was apparent at almost all the places we attempted to visit. Bi-rite creamery why are you so popular??
  • City View restaurant – great Dim Sum place downtown. I sat down famished and we were immediate served little bundles of deliciousness.

I was bummed to leave San Francisco but excited for the rest of our journey to the actual Pacific Northwest.

Stay tuned for dispatches from Portland and Seattle!

%d bloggers like this: