March 27, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Travel, Travels in Asia

Camels and sheikhs and robot jockeys, oh my! That’s pretty much all I could think the whole time I was at the Al Marmoum Camel Racetrack, which is situated in the sandy and relatively undeveloped outskirts of Dubai. At the races to do research for an article, I was able to ride around the track in a chase car, stuff myself with loads of free baklava, and get within dreamy distance of the Crown Prince of Dubai.

It was a wild Middle Eastern adventure to be sure, one which allowed me to get acquainted with a softer side of the city, minus all the looming skyscrapers and perfectly manicured streets. While I may have to tease you about my experience (coming soon to an in-flight magazine near you), here are some shots of the event’s most surreal moments. Also, my friend Holly, who graciously hosted me, provides a brilliant recap of the races over on her blog, so be sure to check it out!

The finish line at the races is a jumble of camels, robots, SUVs and royalty

Robot jockeys replace what used to be child jockeys, which were banned back in 2002

The Crown Prince of Dubai, AKA Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum

A winning camel after being slathered with a saffron mixture

Striking a pose with my new camel peeps

December 9, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Europe

Have you heard about Montenegro? For most of us, the name probably rings a Yugoslavian bell. That’s because the miniature nation formed part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, most recently under the name of “Serbia and Montenegro”. But in 2006, the Montenegrins voted for independence, and since then they’ve been making a name for themselves as a Mediterranean destination worth putting on your radar. Balkan border-hopping like it was our job, my mom and I decided to make it our next stop after visiting Croatia and Bosnia.

I didn’t know what to expect of Montenegro, but knew mountains might kind of be a big deal considering the country’s name literally means “black mountain”. And mountains we found. The nation in fact claims some of the most rugged landscape in all of Europe.

Steep slopes sink into the Bay of Kotor where orange-tiled roofs dot the shores – a warm contrast to the dark blue water, which, the day of our visit, sloshed around fiercely with the powerful winds. Mussel farms made of buoys, bob in all the region’s waters, looking like over-sized multi-colored tictacs….almost good enough to eat, really.

Our first stop brought us to the walled city of Kotor, built by the Republic of Venice during their four centuries of rule (more or less between 1420 and 1797). That wasn’t the area’s only brush with Italian occupation, though. For a couple of years in the 1940s, Kotor (named Catarro until 1918) was even considered an Italian province before the nation became the Socialist Republic of Montenegro as a part of Yugoslavia. Just a brief chapter in the country’s colorful history.

Walls climb up and around the city sandwiched between a steep mountainside and the Bay. The location is prime, but also prone to earthquakes: in 1979, a tremor hit the region, destroying half the town and leaving 100 casualties in its wake. Fortunately for us, the only thing rattling the city walls that day were strong winds (centuries-old cobbled buildings don’t instill in me the same sense of safety as our more earthquake-friendly versions back in SF).

We made a final stop in the beachside town of Budva. Not unlike Kotor, a wall surrounds the old quarters, but here the stony fortress blends into the sea instead of a mountainside. Empty tables line the pebbled beachfront indicating what the city is really known for these days: a killer social scene and some pretty crazy nights. Between the cold weather, and my travel companion (Mom), however, I struggled to visualize a wild Montenegrin night in my near future.

And then there was my beloved baklava. I’d learned the day before, in Bosnia, that the Turkish treat can be found throughout the region: a little treasure left behind by the Ottomans back in the day (and by “the day”, I mean the 16th century). So, in the name of historical research, I made it my duty to hunt down some of that flaky, sugary goodness – you know, to scientifically analyze its evolution over time and territory. The verdict: tasty, but my heart still belongs to some old Turkish dude selling mind-blowing baklava in Istanbul.

Enchanted by Montenegro, we border hopped back to Croatia. Three days and three countries later, our little trip to Dubrovnik had transformed into a Balkan adventure beyond anything we’d expected.

*To see more pictures from my trip to the Balkans, please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

August 22, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Asia, Travels in Europe

baklava in istanbul

Dear my beloved Baklava,

We’ve known each other for years now. We’ve met at Whole Foods and rendezvoused at fusion foodie spots in San Francisco. Our times together have been special, but nothing compares to our recent fling in Istanbul. I’m in love.

I’m not sure how I’m going to break the news to Jacobo – the news that I want to move away to a Turkish island, wear a muumuu and grow old and gordita on baklava…walnut baklava, pistachio baklava and all those other fancy versions that were too complicated to understand given the language barrier, but that I ate nonetheless. Who needs words anyway…be silent and just eat.

Do you think Jacobo will understand? Maybe he can come too?

Love always,
La Tortuga Viajera

baklava in turkey