Posted on October 15, 2013
Nothing beats traveling to a city where you have close friends who can show you around town and take you to all the best restaurants that only the locals know about. A guided food tour is the next best thing.
On the recommendation of a colleague who had recently traveled to Turkey, we signed up for a culinary walk with Istanbul Eats. Our guide, the amazing Angelis, led us on a five and half hour eating tour through markets and small restaurants in the Karaköy neighborhood on the European side of the city, and Kadıköy, on the Asian side.
Personally, I think it can be very intimidating to walk into a restaurant in a new place when you aren’t familiar with the cuisine and don’t speak the language well. A culinary tour is a great ice breaker for diving into the food scene. In addition to introducing us to dozens of kind of food, drink and desserts, Angelis from Istanbul Eats showed us how to order in different kinds of situations, how to garnish our food, what to look for in street food, and talked to us about the way various cultures intersecting over time led to the food we were eating now.
Apart from the amazing food we had that day, Istanbul Eats gave us a printed guide to all their favorite places to eat in the city, organized by neighborhood. Afterwards we consulted that book constantly and often organized our city exploration around a place we wanted to eat from the book. They were some of the best meals of my life and many of them were back street or upstairs places so far from the beaten tourist path, I’d never have found them otherwise.
Another great result of the tour was that we were able to make friends with a few of the other travelers who we spent the day eating and walking with. We met up with one couple a few times for dinner, drinks and sightseeing and it was wonderful to have new friends with whom to experience city life.
Posted on October 10, 2013
This was my favorite afternoon in Istanbul. Quiet and cold, and slow. Sultan Ahmed, also called the Blue Mosque, is a functioning mosque. As with a cathedral, faith comes first, and travelers must wait until services and prayers are finished. I would wait all day in that lovely courtyard, listening to the echoing sounds of the muezzin from the Blue Mosque and the Firuz Aga Mosque take turns calling the faithful to prayer.
Here are two videos of the calls to prayer that echo back and forth from the Blue Mosque and Firuz Aga Mosque. I was caught a little off guard the first time I heard it, and felt very swept up and emotional. The first (bad) video is mine, the second (much better) video was found on Youtube.
Posted on October 9, 2013
One of the main reasons I travel is to experience life in a different place. Some people like to focus on history and spend all their time in museums, but I am much more fascinated by modern life. I want to find the places where the real citizens go, eat what they eat, drink what they drink, shop where they shop. Before a trip, I try to read up on all the customs and habits of the place I am visiting: which way does traffic go on a sidewalk; do they look each other in the eyes; how to they greet each other; thank each other; what is the proper way to order food. Then, when I get there, I try to blend in. Some places its easier than others.
Some people think trying to blend in is silly, but I think it leads to a lot of nice surprises. Maybe I get into the modern art museum for free because I look like a citizen. Maybe the handsome men at the next table buy us dessert because we admired theirs. Maybe the shopkeeper sends me to his favorite restaurant, or the fruit seller gives us a few pears as a gift.
Now that the Mister and I travel together, we rent apartments in neighborhoods, instead of hotels in the city center. In Istanbul we stayed in the Karaköy neighborhood, which is across the Golden Horn from the old city. We had nice views of Galata and the old city, but when we went downstairs the street was full of appliance and light fixture stores. We could walk to İstiklal in ten minutes to party with the locals, or stay in our apartment to drink wine and play games as the gorgeous Galata Tower loomed over us.
I love people watching. So does the Mister. We spent so much time in Istanbul sitting in cafes, sitting in parks, watching people, wandering around, watching, listening, tasting. We explored back streets and fish markets, rode the ferries and the trams, peeked into workshops and stores. We got lost so many times, but stumbled on cafes and antique shops and schools and cemeteries, and it was really all so wonderful.
Posted on October 8, 2013
Istanbul. I’d never been to a city with so much history. Rome is the only place that comes close, and even that is not the same. The area was first settled nearly 2,500 years ago, and over that time it was a major crossroads of trade and culture, as well as the capitol of four major empires.
History is everywhere in the city, re-appropriated and re-purposed, layered on top of its self and crammed together. Stand anywhere in the city and you’ll find something beautiful from 500 years ago, then walk a few steps and find some place important 1,000 years ago, then turn a corner and find something 1,500 years old that was turned into something useful fifty years ago.
The modern day culture and the food were primarily what drew me to Istanbul, but we took a little time each day to visit one or two of the monumental historical sights the city had to offer. Limiting the time we spend in museums, for us, means that when we do go to one, we don’t feel rushed and exhausted. I like feeling like I can linger. Explore every corner and look at the light from every window. Imagine that I lived here and got to look at this tile or that stone, every day.
Posted on October 3, 2013
This past spring, I found myself in the city a couple of times for work and a bridal shower. We have so many friends that live all over Manhattan and Brooklyn that it can be a challenge hopscotching across town to see them when we visit. One chilly but sunny day, just before we headed home, the Mister had brunch with his brother, while I met up with friends to pick up something warm to drink at Blue Bottle Coffee and then walk along the High Line. It was the perfect way to catch up, stretch our legs, and enjoy the first days of spring.
Posted on September 26, 2013
At the end of this trip to California, we headed south for the wedding of one of the Mister’s good friends from college, hopscotching all over Orange County and Los Angeles for various wedding events, visiting family, and getting in a little sightseeing.
We started out in Irvine, staying with family on his side. I wrote a little about it here. To kick off the busy weekend, the Mister’s auntie made us an Italian feast, with homemade gnocchi, eggplant parmesan, fresh fig salad, and on and on. By Saturday morning, we were well-rested and energized for a busy couple of days.
Early Saturday afternoon we drove to Newport Beach for the ceremony. We got to the church about an hour early and walked a block over to the beach to have a look around. It was a gorgeous day, and I wanted to hitch up my long dress and run straight into the waves.
The Mister and the groom come from a tight-knit group of ten or so friends from college, most of whom were able to make it to the wedding. They are scattered all over the country now, and we were glad to spend time before the ceremony chatting and laughing, and catching up with the groom’s family, who they knew well. After the ceremony, the married couple dashed to their vintage ride in a cloud of bubbles, rose petals and cheers, and while they went off to take photos, we all piled into our cars and headed straight to the nearest In-N-Out Burger for a pre-reception snack.
The reception was at the gorgeous Montage Hotel, overlooking Laguna Beach. Cocktail hour and a tea ceremony were held on the lawns, perfectly timed to coincide with the last few golden hours of the day.
We took turns taking each other’s photos and indulging in the champagne bar.
Once the sun had sen, we made our way into the ballroom for dinner, each table set with elaborate ceramics, and bowls of candles and blossoms. We danced the night away to a Beach Boys cover band, under dozens of paper lanterns.
The next morning, we pried our weary bodies out of bed, and drove to Corona del Mar, for a brunch overlooking the beach at the bride’s family home. We sipped mimosas and bloody marys, and watched the waves crash on the rocks a few feet away.
After brunch, and many hugs goodbye with good friends, we headed into Los Angeles to drive around a bit before I had to catch a red eye home. On the recommendation of Kristina, we stopped at Grand Central Market for lunch. We wandered around the building, eating all the food with our eyes, and finally settled on the taqueria with the longest line and no visible name. Amazing.
We also made our way up to Griffith Observatory to take in the views of the city and explore the observatory.
There was so much amazing food and architecture that we couldn’t get to, and now we are both itching to come back soon and taste a little more of what the city has to offer.
Posted on September 24, 2013
While in California we had hoped to have a chance to meet up with a couple of good friends who live in the Bay area. We’d all been traveling a lot, only had part of one day free, and they have a baby, so when our friend hit on the solution of meeting up half way in Santa Cruz, we thought “Perfect!” On Sunday morning, we rented a car and made the hour long drive north.
I’d never been to Santa Cruz before and it was really the perfect town to meet up for a few hours. It was still a little foggy when we arrived, so we parked near the boardwalk, got espressos and drifted down to the beach to watch the volleyball players. Not long after, our friends arrived with a beach blanket and picnic food. We set up a few feet up from the water, snacked and caught up, and dug in the sand with the baby, all the while watching athletes complete a triathlon along one stretch of the beach.
Once the sun had burned through the fog and we’d had a chance to soak up the warmth, we packed up the blanket and headed over to the boardwalk to check out the amusement park and the arcades. It was fun to see the baby taking in all the lights and sounds and the movement of the rides, sometimes wide-eyed and sometimes squealing in delight. We hadn’t seen her since last summer when she still so tiny and sleepy, and now she’s practically a pro at walking.
We women snuck off on our own to ride the colorful chair lifts high above the park, and the men and the baby wandered around the rides and booths below.
Like the end of any perfect summer trip, we indulged in
vices treats like corn dogs and chocolate dipped ice cream cones. We wandered into the arcades and did our best to win enough tickets to buy the baby something cute, and when we came up short, we fed more money into the token machines so we could win more tickets. Eventually we racked up enough tickets to get her a soft blue sea horse on a bendable stick, and she rewarded our efforts by laughing and repeatedly giving it kisses.
Posted on September 19, 2013
One afternoon, I found myself on my own with time on my hands and no place in particular to be. I popped in to Adventures by the Sea and asked about renting a bicycle for a few hours. Within a few minutes they fitted me for a small white, dutch step-through style rental bike, taken my info, and pointed me in the more scenic direction of the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail.
This part of California is known for quick weather changes and this day was no exception. On the ride out, the fog (they call it the Sea Layer) clung to the rocky outcroppings and crashing waves, and the landscape was spooky and otherworldly, making the coast seemed wild and a little dangerous. On the ride back, the sun had burned through the fog and everything was bright and warm and calm, and almost unrecognizable from the earlier ride. I felt as though I was returning through a completely different place.
There are numerous little beaches along the way, some of them with benches and picnic tables. I probably stopped a dozen times, locked my bike up to a chain or fence post and wandered down to the beaches, exploring the rocks and tide pools, numbing my feet in the water and looking for sea glass.
There and back, I rode a little under 19 miles in 3.5 hours–pretty slow and leisurely. I’ll probably be back in California later this year, and I’m hoping to pack a picnic and do the entire ride down to Carmel-by-the-Sea. This would almost double the distance and probably take a full day, but I’m looking forward to it.
A few notes on the ride: I started my ride on the paved bike path near Cannery Row. This is part of the larger Monterey Bay Coastal Trail; its a paved multi-use trail that is separated from the street. After Lover’s Point, in Pacific Grove, the paved bike path ends, and I followed some other cyclists on to the street along Sunset Drive. I don’t typically feel super comfortable riding along with cars, but the traffic on Sunset Drive was slow and lazy, and after about two miles a bike path reappears on either side of the road. I followed this for another mile or so to Spanish Bay, then cut inland and joined up with 17 Mile Drive. The road is free for cyclists, $9.00 for cars, and absolutely beautiful. Ride along for a few miles or the length of the trail, there are plenty of places to stop and rest, but be sure to bring your own food and water, as I didn’t see anything available for sale. The ride is relatively flat, with only one incline that left me a little winded. Here’s a map of the approximate ride I did, 8.7 miles each way.
Posted on September 18, 2013
Early one cool, golden morning, we headed down to the beach to explore Monterey Bay by kayak. It was a little breezy, but the water was glassy and calm, and our wetsuits kept us perfectly warm. I expected to see harbor seals and sea lions, and was surprised by just how many animals we saw. I only got photos of a few of them, but altogether we saw sea lions, harbor seals, otters with pups, dolphins, sea nettles, starfish, a sea hare, cormorants, pelicans, and small octopus. Our guide was thrilled about the octopus as it was the first one he’d ever seen there and couldn’t recall hearing of a sighting in three or four years.
Our amazing guide, Alex, from Monterey Bay Kayaks was incredibly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and clearly loved his job. Alex was careful to keep us a safe distance from the birds and mammals (for their safety), but many of them seemed just as curious about us and swam over to check us out–and occasionally give us a good splashing.
Posted on September 17, 2013
After nearly two weeks spent in California, I’m finally home and it feels strange to no longer be two blocks from the ocean. I already miss the crashing waves and smell of eucalyptus.
I worked via laptop most of the time I was away, so it wasn’t really a vacation. Still, it was amazing to walk down to the bay when I was done for the day and work with the windows thrown wide open because the weather was so lovely. I’ll likely be back again in early December and I’m already making lists of things I didn’t have time to do this time. Longer bike rides and boating, the aquarium and the markets.
California was golden days and the perfect blend of warm and cool. Now I’m home and the heat seems to have burned off for the year. It really feels like the start of autumn and I’m looking up and waiting for the leaves to change. Its been more than five years since I was last in school and summer blends into the other seasons with no clear delineation. This year feels different.
Posted on September 13, 2013
Today I’m working from a relative’s house in Irvine. I got chance to sneak out this morning for a little walk and was delighted to find pomegranate and lemon trees growing in neighbors’ yards. My life’s dream is to have my very own avocado tree, and if I’d seen one of those I might not have been able to stop myself from taking one. Have a great weekend!
Posted on September 12, 2013
Today is my last day in Monterey. Tonight I head south to attend a weekend wedding and hopefully do a little exploring. I’ll share some photos from my time here next week, but for now, here are a few shots around our gorgeous, Spanish-style hotel.
Posted on September 6, 2013
I’ve been in Monterey for a few days now and its been a wonderful change of scenery. The days have been sunny and cool, and the air smells like eucalyptus which is one of my favorite things about being in California. Here are a few photos from my first walk down along the water.
This weekend we are planning to go kayaking in Monterey Bay, explore Carmel, and drive up to Santa Cruz to hang out with friends. Hope you have a great weekend!
Posted on September 3, 2013
Packing up for a two week trip to California. I like to travel light and have tried to adhere to a great packing tip I read about on Cup of Jo a while back: stick to a simple color scheme. This let’s you mix and match tops, bottoms, layers, jewelry and shoes, so that you can have lots of outfits without lugging around too much stuff. I’ve packed one brightly colored dress, since I have a wedding to attend at the end of the trip.
I’ll be working from California for next two weeks, mostly in Monterey, but spending a little time in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles. Any tips on great places to eat or things to do?
Posted on September 2, 2013
Over Memorial Day weekend, we traveled to central Florida to attend the second part of our four-weddings-in-six-weeks blitz. We tacked two extra days onto the long weekend and rented a cottage on Cocoa Beach. The water was clear and warm, and large waves broke a few feet from shore. We had fun standing right at the break and trying to jump over the waves without getting barreled over. One day we went dolphin watching and were even lucky enough to catch a rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center. After five days we were so relaxed and it was hard to leave our tiny kitschy cottage by the sea.
Video I shot of the rocket launch.
Posted on August 27, 2013
As a child in the southwest, I never understood why people loved summer until I moved to Ann Arbor in my mid-twenties. Long golden days and cool nights, littered with fireflies, ice cream and more flowers than I’d ever seen. I’d never really believed in the summers I read about in Anne of Green Gables; Ann Arbor made me understand.
In need of a summer getaway, the Mister and I spent the better part of last week there visiting with old friends, picking blueberries, and eating more than our fair share of ice cream.