Planes, Trains, & Automobiles: food, glorious food

Leading up to the date of departure, I had doubled down on my discipline, with worthy workouts and conscious calorie counting. Yeah, I know, there’s no such thing as a rollover workout, but, well … I knew I was gonna eat.all.the.things. whilst not caring what day or time it was … just nod and accept the logic is flawed and let’s move on.

The first official meal, discounting plane food (which didn’t completely suck), was that phenomenal falafel in Istanbul.

Kebabs in Istanbul

Kebabs in Istanbul

If I were more poetically inclined, I would write an Ode To Baklava. Srsly. It was that good. Fresh daily. Sweet. Just this side of too sweet. I think I mentioned we were two doors away from the baklava shop. It was about 70-75 degrees in Istanbul when we were there, and with no air conditioning, the windows in our 3rd floor apartment stayed open (oh, ask Sandy about the marching band practice after midnight on night #2). I don’t know what is the optimal time for baking (cooking? making?) baklava, but it was often enough that Istanbul smelled fantastic! Baklava with pistachio ice cream, good. Baklava with lemon ice cream, perfect…a simply scrumptious blend of sweet and sour.

After prowling the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, we stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants on–or rather, under– the Galata Köprüsüthe. Much to Sandy’s delight, I tried the calamari and mussels. Both were deep fried. The first wasn’t too bad. The second wasn’t too good. But, I got points for trying. And yay me, I honored my promise to bravely try new things straight away. Those points carried over the rest of the trip. {wiping brow}

Speaking of taste buds… I haven’t been drinking coffee long enough to be a real aficionado, but I have been drinking coffee long enough to know that not all lattes are created equal, and some baristas have real talent. Starbucks Istanbul had a fair amount of elbow room, but a less-than-stellar caramel latte. Starbucks Vienna felt a little like I should have practiced maximizing my personal space in a sardine can. But, chin, chin, it’s warm and caffeinated.

Powdered sugar deliciousness at the Ernte Dank festival we stumbled on in Vienna

Powdered sugar deliciousness at the Ernte Dank festival we stumbled on in Vienna

Fruit & yogurt is, clearly, the breakfast of champions. And something healthy to balance (shya, who’m I kidding?!?) to balance out the pastries. Aubrie is a champ and making the most amazing breakfast mix of yogurt and whatever fruit and nuts are on hand. Just never mind the odd random noise coming from the back bedroom. That’ll be Aubrie crunching up whole almonds into bite-sized pieces in a zip-lock bag with a pan on the ceramic tile.

Coca Cola measured in liters. Half portions. Delivered in the charming glass bottles with a glass and straw on the side. No ice. All served at room temp. After all the walking, you don’t notice it isn’t cold. It’s wet, and caffeinated. Done and done.

Bottled water comes gassy or not gassy. It’s best to pay attention, otherwise you end up with the other kind. Fortunately, the types are color-coded. Unfortunately, they’re not the same colors in each country. But no matter, in several cities the pilsner was actually cheaper than bottled water. (Like beer drinkers really need an excuse to drink more beer.)

<confession box> I am not a great beer drinker. But the pilsner was good.

Unlimited consumption in the rest area at Magnolia Spa

Unlimited consumption in the rest area at Magnolia Spa

How often do you used the words “unlimited consumption” in a sentence? Yeah, me too; not very often. Not until Budapest. Anticipating a long train leg, we decided the first order of business on arrival would be a few hours at the Magnolia Spa. Along with a heavenly massage and several other treatments amongst us, we had leave to loiter in the “rest area” and indulge in a selection of teas, fruits and cookies. Unlimited consumption = delicious.

On our last night in Vienna, after touring the Habsburg Palace grounds, we wandered back into the city for dinner—Greek—then shopped our way back to the main square. We stopped for ice cream at the shop that had amazing lines (several yards long) each time we’d wandered past. There is a decided reason the lines were so long at Eis Greissler. Phe-nom-i-nal ice cream. Phenominal. Poppy seed ice cream. Srsly. Caramel ice cream. I can’t even.

The pastries: oh! the pastries!!! {sigh} The pastries were phenomenal. Light and flaky. Chocolate. Cinnamon. Vanilla. With nuts. Without nuts. Round. Swirled. Odd-shaped. All lovely deliciousness. {shudder} Pastries with coffee before breakfast. Pastries with beverage after breakfast, before lunch. Pastries as a mid-afternoon snack. Pastries, glorious pastries. (To all my vigilant grammar guards—please to just overlook this entire paragraph.)

To sum up, the food was fantastic. Thank goodness I didn’t have access to a scale, and I was smart enough to ignore My Fitness Pal. I would have missed out on some marvelous meals if I had decided to care about caloric intake. Because vacation calories don’t count 😉

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles: Gallivanting

Jen, Sandy, Robin at the entrance to the Grand Bazaar.

Jen, Sandy, Robin at the entrance to the Grand Bazaar.

Previously, I mentioned a “grown up” vacation, my first in a while. The trip itself was two weeks (16 days if we’re being technical). Being a fan of naming things, I dubbed it Gallivanting Europe: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles.

Sadly, there were no polkas on this trip, although I still think we should count all the lederhosen. More about that later.

But first, the trip: Istanbul, Budapest, Bucharest, Vienna, Prague. By train. I sqwee’d before, and I’ll sqwee again. Sandy promised me sketch border crossings (delivered), castles (Transylvania!), pastries (I can’t even), trip treasures…all good great things.

I had fabulous intentions of posting from each city, like I did about our arrival in Istanbul, here. But after that first night, well, writing wasn’t super high on my priority list.

But now to the point: the people I gallivanted with. (Isn’t that a great word? Gallivant. Grown ups don’t gallivant enough. I’m determined to go gallivanting more often.)

Some people are easy to travel with. Others…aren’t. I cop to a little early trepidation–would we all get along? would they regret letting me tag along? But my nervousness was unfounded. Sandy, Aubrie, and Robin were fantastically easy to travel with. Utterly. After about the first 36 hours, I think we’d figured it all out, and definitely by day 4 we’d developed our collective rhythm for the trip.


Aubrie, Sandy, Jen on the Eminönü ferry.

I’ve always felt this way, but after this trip I’m more convinced than ever: the people you travel with, and the relationships you nurture as a result, are as important, if not more so, than the itinerary. Oh! I had so much fun with these people!!

Sandy, aside from being fabulous in general, is a teacher. She works with student entrepreneurs, pushing them beyond their self-imposed limitations to accomplish amazingly incredible things. In life, she embraces every experience as a potential learning lab and is perpetually on the lookout for the lesson, for the teaching moment.

Aubrie and Robin run Actuality Media, giving film students practical experience in working with nonprofit organizations–change makers, they call them–creating documentaries to tell their stories. It was fascinating to experience them absorb our adventure(s) and provide a running commentary translated through their respective perspectives. And equally fascinating to myself start seeing through their view finders. The best equivalent analogy I can draw is in learning a new language…at first, you actively translate in your head what you read or hear, what you want to say. Over time you become proficient and eventually begin actually thinking in that language.

I’m certain I don’t have adequate words to express my gratitude to these three amazing people. The entire adventure was pure joy.

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles: Istanbul



I’ve taken time off, off course … a week here, a week there, a random long weekend. Traveling with one friend across the country to visit another (and collect Arnold Palmer’s autograph, and Disney World with my bestest bosom friend and her family definitely count as vacation. Sitting on the tractor going around, and around, and around, and around the field (haying season) does not.

This particular trip–dubbed Trains, Planes, & Automobiles–is only the second grown-up, two-week holiday I’ve managed in the past {cough} twelve years {cough} To say I’ve been looking forward to it would be understating things just {pinching fingers together} a little bit.

Our trip started at dark:thirty, leaving the house early enough to drive to the airport, check baggage, and clear security. We have three legs to part on of this adventure: drive to the airport, PDX to JFK, JFK to IST. (PS–the Portland airport is not very busy at 430 am.)

I’m traveling with a friend who I’ve already come to know in a better way since this adventure began. Alright, so technically this was her trip and I just invited myself along. She and the other two we’re meeting in Istanbul were kind enough to let me.

Our seat choice for the second leg of the flight from JFK to IST was superb. When we booked them, we were a little unsure if we would appreciate them…directly behind the first bulkhead. Luscious leg room. Luscious. 20130831-071457.jpg

Tario, a keyboardist with the pop band Akon for the past few years (Justin Beiber before that), was our seat mate this leg. An easy-going, good-natured guy with a warm & ready smile … and a stellar stash of chocolate … Tario and Sandy bonded over anecdotes about a neighborhood they both know just outside Atlanta. It seems home prices in even the more affluent neighborhoods have continued to trend downwards, in some cases as much as 60-70%. Akon is playing in Istanbul 8/30 & 8/31 in the Festival of Velvet Villains with 50 Cent and Inna, among others. Who knows, a concert may end up on the itinerary…

Is there enough time to see.all.the.things?!?

We landed in Istanbul a little early; successfully navigated customs (picked up my 4th passport stamp), baggage pickup, the ATM for Turkish Lira, the taxi (our driver spoke very little English), and finding the apartment.

Aubrie and Robin had already been in Istanbul a few weeks and had previously sent directions, things to look for, etc. Aubrie sent a detailed explanation of how to negotiate price with the taxi driver, how to not panic when he stopped to ask directions from people on the street, and my *favorite* part of the directions, 2013-08-30 PTA4

“Once you arrive at the apartment, 102 is clearly on the door, you want to press the second buzzer button. Or you can just yell from the street.”

Which is precisely what we did. Yell from the street. Sandy and I stood on Uzunhafiz street in the Kadiköy neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey, and yelled for Aubrie.

After a little power nap to acclimate to the time zone (10 hrs ahead difference) and a shower to feel human again, the four of us struck off for the falafel shop just around the corner for a snack. Oh, wow. No clue what was in it. But wow, good. Aubrie walked us down to the bakery they’ve been going to and we picked up a few treats. 20130831-075651.jpg

I tagged along with Robin down to the water front for a photo op. There was a bit of cloud cover and Robin wanted to get a few photos while the lighting was good. The clouds and wind were putting on quite a show. Those pictures are still on my camera.

After another little cat nap for Sandy and I, all of us struck off for dinner. Waiting for a table at their favorite restaurant, we had time for a cup of tea. Dinner was buffet style (Libby, does this look familiar?!?) After dinner, as we were sitting talking, soaking up the atmosphere, Robin noticed a familiar sound. There is a young girl, who, with nothing but a drum, wanders the “restaurant alleys” playing and sometimes singing. For tips. The drumming has a good beat, but it is loud. I noticed she was roaming barefoot. I’m not sure if that has any significance, though.

Two doors from the falafel place is the pastry shop Aubrie and Robin have frequenting. Two words: baklava and ice cream. OK, three. Helva. 20130831-081106.jpg

We spent some time deciding the itinerary for the remainder of our time in Istanbul. Bedtime. My body has no clue which end is up. But the sounds of the street activity are lulling me.

2 am local time
The smells wafting in through the open window all.night.long are comforting and maddening at the same time. Fresh bread of who-knows-how-many-different-varieties, cinnamon, vanilla, an unidentifiable pastry or ten. It reminds me of my grandma’s kitchen. And my belly that breakfast is several hours off.

We’re in Istanbul. SQWEE!