September 7, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Travel, Travels in Asia, Travels in Europe, Video

Just admit it – you barely knew the country of Georgia existed before I started flooding your inbox and RSS feeds with blog posts that make you so hungry you think you’re going to burst. But now, you’re extra curious about this peculiar Eurasian nation. So, since I’ve reeled ya in, here’s a little video giving you yet another taste of the country. (Be sure to watch it until the end – I think it’s hilarious, but I’m also easily amused.)

If you are having trouble viewing the video, please click here.
To see pictures from my trip to Georgia, please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page or Flickr page.

September 5, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Asia, Travels in Europe

My summer overdose of travel continues to its next stop – Istanbul, Turkey. While I spent a good majority of my trip there obsessing over baklava, I did manage to squeeze in a few tourist stops as well. Even though I may not be too keen on sharing my beloved Turkish dessert, I figure I can at least let you in on some of my top travel tips for the city that now ranks as one of my all-time favorites.

Bargain hunting
When we first arrived, we felt compelled to hoard tempting Turkish souvenirs like they were rare treasures. We learned quickly, however, that the same junk quality products were sold throughout the city – from soaps to ceramics, rugs and tea cups – and at a wild range of prices. Take, for example, a shawl I bought for myself next to the Blue Mosque – the item cost me 8 Turkish lira (after I busted out my killer bargaining skills), but in the Grand Bazaar they wanted to charge me 50!!! Haha – that’s exactly what I said to the guy too – hahaha! Knowing the running price of our wish-list items helped us negotiate price throughout the trip, and avoid getting ripped off by some of the smooth-talking salesmen.

Ignore salesmen flattery
Speaking of smooth-talking salesmen, don’t be flattered by their ability to impress you with knowledge of your language or country. Originally, we were shocked when Turks here, there and everywhere spoke to us in fluent Spanish, only to realize after a five-minute walk through the Grand Bazaar that they ALL spoke Spanish….and English, and Italian, and French and I don’t know, probably Pig Latin. The brilliant sales tactic in the popular merchant city includes speaking a load of languages to impress clients. And don’t be surprised if they have some incomprehensible connection with your home country – “I’ve got a cousin living in Seattle” , “I’m half Spanish” or “I’m moving to Texas!!” Ignore the conversation starters – you know better than that.

See spots early
Topkapi Palace, The Blue Mosque, The Hagia Sofia – each day we rose early to make to our way to these popular destinations a half an hour before opening. Not necessarily to avoid the lines, though, but for the real bonus – having the usually tourist-filled sights all to ourselves. Sure, other visitors rolled in behind us, but for a brief moment a few of the world’s most famous spots felt like our own personal playgrounds.

Skip boat tours
Following a friend’s recommendation to check out the Kadiköy neighborhood, we hitched a ride on a ferry that transports Turks and tourists alike from one side of the river to the other. For around one, count it – ONE – euro, we enjoyed a relaxing boat ride across the water with priceless views of the city. I honestly don’t know how much the proper boat excursions cost, but if they cost more than a euro, then you’re being taken for a ride – an expensive unnecessary ride that better include champagne and caviar. Kill two birds with one stone by just grabbing one of the transportation boats across the water to see another neighborhood.

Other recommendations:

Ayasultan Hotel – Oh man, we lucked out on this one. Looking for a new hotel to replace our old hotel (which shall remain nameless), we came across the brand spankin’ new Ayasultan Boutique Hotel smack dab in the heart of Istanbul. Just off the main drag on a narrow near-traffic-free street, sat our oasis in the city of nine-million. The price was right, the rooms were not only new but well-decorated, and the rooftop-terrace breakfast was the yogurt on my kebap.

Hamdi Restaurant – With views of the Bosphorus River and the city, the sights alone makes the dinner here worth it. The bonus? The food, of course. The service may not be stellar, but the cuisine and views are so impressive that you just won’t care.

Rüstem Pasha Mosque – While others flock to the more popular mosques, you can smartly head to this lesser-frequented complex. Just a pistachio’s throw away from the Spice Bazaar, a stop at the near-vacant mosque is a relaxing escape from Istanbul’s hustle and bustle.

*To see photos from my trip to Turkey, please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page or Flickr page.
**A big muchas gracias to TheViatrix for suggesting Hamdi, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque and Kadiköy! Check out more of her Turkey tips here.