Sunday, December 22, 2013

Girls Getaway to Istanbul - Food

The food in Istanbul was in a word - fabulous. Let’s just say I ate way more than I should have on this trip. But the food kept coming, and it was fantastic. I had a chance to experience historic dishes served to the sultans, like Hünkar Beğendi, a dish of stewed lamb over eggplant purée, and also taste creative uses of local ingredients like pistachios, pomegranate, chestnuts and sumac, by young chefs.

Our first evening in Istanbul, Zübeyir Ocakbaşi a traditional Turkish kebab house, introduced me to
healthful Mediterranean food. The cuisine here is perfect for sharing with a group, a mix of mezes, vegetables dressed simply in olive oil and hearty meat kebabs. I don’t consider myself a big red meat eater, but I went into a carnivorous frenzy with the juicy chunks of lamb.

For a sexy night out, try X Restaurant, with a sweeping panoramic view of the city and modern takes on Mediterranean ingredients, including a delicious roasted turbot fresh from the Black Sea dressed
with a citrus fennel vinaigrette, grilled asparagus, artichokes and tomatoes. And liver never tasted as good as the seared calf liver with arugula pesto and beetroot sauce. Even though we were stuffed, dessert was too tempting. Warm chestnut cake with an oozing caramel center was the perfect way to end the meal.

Turkish desserts tend to be very sweet, almost cloying at times, with lots of honey, nuts and simple syrup. It’s hard to differentiate between all the variations on baklava and different flavors of Turkish delight. One of my favorite desserts, however, was a simple almond cookie, Badem Kurabiyesi, that I had at Pandeli in the Spice Bazar. Dipped in Turkish coffee, this crumbly almond shortbread was divine.

I’m also a little obsessed with pistachios, so the pistachio paste cakes at NAR Lokanta were too
addictive…subtly sweet with an intense nuttiness. I had to get an entire box to bring home. The ingredients are simply pistachios, sugar and egg whites and since no preservatives are used, this has a very short shelf life. That was no problem though, as I devoured the whole box in just a couple days. The NAR restaurant is run by Turkey’s premier gourmet food company and located in the sophisticated Armaggan boutique. Imagine if Tiffany & Co. and Dean & DeLuca joined forces, Turkish style. Armaggan’s mission is introducing Turkish culture to the world, showcasing the finest local designers of jewelry, clothing, textiles and housewares, as well as gourmet olive oils, Turkish delight and organic spices. Many NAR products are just recently available to purchase online and they are expanding their brand to the states, so be on the lookout. A few of my favorites include their raspberry Turkish delight, chili olive oil and of course my pistachio and almond pastes.

On my way back to Chicago, I had one last luxurious experience in the absolutely enormous Turkish Airlines VIP lounge at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport. There’s a baby grand piano, putting green, movie theater, library and billiards table, not to mention an array of freshly prepared foods. After eating far too much Turkish delight and baklava on this trip, I reigned myself in for a sampling of Turkish mezes from the salad bar. Luckily I had a couple girlfriends on my flight back to Chicago or I might have missed my flight. The bright and spacious lounge is just so comfortable that it takes away all the normal stressors of traveling and being at the airport. Turkish Airlines may call it business class, but this is definitely a first-class experience. 

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago. To find out more about Amber, 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Girls Getaway to Istanbul - Culture

There’s no better way to get to Istanbul than a direct flight in business class on Turkish Airlines. The 10 hour and 40 minute flight from Chicago went by in a flash and I was able to truly sleep for the first time in my life on a plane thanks to the lie-flat beds that slowly recline like the chair in a dentist’s office. I could do yoga, I had so much space. And with the hundreds of movies to choose from, I must have spent at least a half hour simply scrolling through the selection. Turkish Airlines is proud of its flying chef program, and the food was impressive to say the least, both in quality and quantity. A five-course dinner included appetizers from an elaborate trolley, my selection of an entrée and a dessert trolley to finish the night. Business class is definitely a splurge, but on Turkish Airlines the services and amenities really do surprise and delight.

My accommodations were at the grand Four Seasons Hotel at Sultanahmet, within walking distance of the majestic Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, right in the heart of the historic center of Istanbul.

Compared to the Four Seasons Bosphorus the Sultanahmet location is a more intimate, charming boutique hotel and more centrally located to see the main historic sites. Bosphorus is grander, with a sexier vibe, and a quarter of the rooms overlook the Bosphorus River. Both properties are elegant, with impeccable service (if you go out for a morning run, they’ll be waiting for you at the front door with a towel and water to cool off), so you can’t go wrong with either. Between the two, I like the traditional Turkish décor and vibrant colors of the Sultanahmet location more. The hotel was built to be a prison and detained political dissidents, murderers and thieves for much of the 20th century. Ironically, it’s now become a place to escape to instead of from. As part of my escape, I had the pleasure of experiencing the Sodashi mineral marine facial, complete with hand and foot massage. It’s a gentler facial than I’m used to, but still with nice results, giving me a natural luminosity sans extractions.

With our ideal location, I could look out my window and see the breathtaking Hagia Sophia. It’s the only place in the world that you’ll find Christian mosaics depicting Christ and the Virgin Mary alongside Arabic inscriptions. The Blue Mosque is another beautiful monument and free for visitors to enter, save for prayer five times a day. Women need to cover their heads with scarves before stepping inside, but the dome - The Basilica Cistern - is another must-visit stop and only a stone’s throw away. The cathedral-sized cavern was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century and used to store water for the entire city. It could hold almost three million cubic feet of water!

Speaking of water, no trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı to experience the cleansing ritual of Turkish baths. I recommend the traditional full cleanse, which includes a body scrub followed by a relaxing bubble wash and massage while lying on a marble stone. Cool off afterward in the relaxation lounge while sipping sherbet, a cool drink made with rosehips and spices. Bachelorette party, anyone?

Art lovers can check out the Istanbul Modern, Turkey’s first private museum of modern and contemporary art. There are a surprising number of female artists, and several galleries dedicated to Turkish artists. Multimedia collage is interspersed with sculptures and more traditional paintings as well. I’ve really only touched the tip of the iceberg with the wealth of culture and I have so much more to learn about the Ottoman Empire.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago. To find out more about Amber, 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ways to be Prepared for Travel Emergencies

With the holiday season here and traveling increasing by 23% (according to the U.S. Dept. of
Transportation), it’s important to make sure you’re prepared to be away from home.  Below are a few tips to ensure you are as prepared as possible, courtesy of Shary Nassimi, creator of the UrgentCall emergency service mobile app.

·Give your loved ones your emergency contact information: 91% of adults in the U.S. own a cell phone, according to a June 2013 Pew Research Center study.  Of those cell phone owners, 74% of them use their phone in an emergency to get help.   You need to know if an emergency situation arises while you’re traveling, make sure people know how to reach you.  Give your loved ones your UrgentCall phone number, so you never miss a call again.  The emergency service mobile app will ensure that you’re only receiving an emergency call and your phone will not stop ringing until you answer the call.

·Carry your health insurance card.

·Setup & have Medevac insurance – This is so you can get airlifted to a medical center that can provide proper medical care.  Not having this can be costly.  Medevac insurance can provide around $500K-$1MM of coverage.  That’s saving quite a bit of money!

·Leave copies of your plans with someone at home & tell someone.

·Carry money wisely and in multiple forms.  Don’t just carry it all in your wallet or only as a card or cash.  Mix it up. Put some money in your suitcase; don’t just keep it on your person. Have a credit card on-hand for emergencies.

·Know the lingo - Be able to say, "I need help, Please call police" in the local language (or carry a card with the words in local script).

·Know yourself, know your locale. – If you’re traveling abroad, know where your embassy is & how to get there.  Know where the nearest hospital or police station is located.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Beat Germs This Holiday Travel Season

Millions hit the road during the holiday season and with that brings hordes of germs tagging along for the ride. With all of the running around and the hustle and bustle of the holidays, our bodies and immune systems get worn down and in comes those dreadful common cold and flu symptoms.

As we are all determined to visit friends and family or escape the cold weather, coming into contact with germs while traveling is inevitable. Dr. Jennifer Collins, MD provides some key tips to keep you happy and healthy this holiday travel season. 

Hand sanitizer- Pack travel-sized hand sanitizer and keep the cold and flu at bay, as trains, buses and planes are breeding grounds for germs.

Rest- We tend to get run down during the holidays due to shopping and travel. Lack of sleep can run down your immune system and no one wants to be sick during the holidays!

Immunity booster- Boost your immune system before and during holiday travel with products such as Cold-EEZE Cold Remedy Plus Natural Immune Support (+ Natural Energy).

Stay active- Even though you’re traveling, there are plenty of ways to exercise, as it helps build your immune system. Pack your workout clothes and sneakers and sweat it out!

Reading material- Magazines on trains and planes are living with germs. If possible, pack your own reading material to keep away those pesky germs.

Dr. Jennifer Collins, MD is physician specializing in Allergy, Asthma and Immunology with a private practice in New York City.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Win a Girls Getaway to Cancun

You could be here!!!

Anyone want to win the GRAND PRIZE in the Girls Getaway Guide's '12 Days til Christmas'
Getaway Giveaway???

You could win a Girls Getaway to Cancun, Mexico w/5 days & 4 nights for 2 adults at all-inclusive, 5-star Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort - enjoy whatever you want, whenever you want it – fine dining at 14 restaurants, premium wines and spirits, water sports, nightly entertainment at the resort's trendy nightclub valued at $2,344.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Win A Girls Getaway to Aruba

Win a Girls Getaway to Aruba in the Girls Getaway Guide's "12 Days 'til Christmas" Getaway Giveaway!

The lucky winner will enjoy a three-night stay at the AAA-Diamond Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa including breakfast daily for two at Laguna and two 50-minute massages at Larimar Spa valued at $1,860. 

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Safety Tips for Flying with Children During the Holidays

If you’ll be flying with a small child over the holidays, you’re probably dreading how stressful air travel can be—but you may not be aware of the safety risks it can pose. Louie Delaware, the Home Safety Guru®, points out six things you should be aware of before heading to the airport.

Get the best seats - On an airplane, not all seat assignments are created equal, especially if you’re traveling with an infant or small child. When making your reservation, you may want to inquire about bulkhead seating for your family. Bulkhead seating is found behind partitions in airplanes. These partitions often separate business class from economy, or contain galleys or lavatories—meaning that you’ll be sitting behind a wall, not a row of seats. (Be aware, though, that some bulkhead seating is located beside emergency exits, and that children are prohibited from sitting in these rows.)

Be first in line - Especially if you aren’t a frequent flier, you may not be familiar with early boarding, an option that many airlines offer to families traveling with younger children.

Make sure that your car seat works as a carry-on - Don’t assume that just because your car seat contains a baby, you’ll be able to carry it onto a plane with no problems. If your car seat doesn’t have the designation “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft”—which many models don’t—your airline may prevent you from using it.

Reserve lap-sitting for visits to Santa - If your child is under two years of age, you might find it very tempting to simply hold him or her on your lap for the duration of your flight if the airline allows this option—after all, you’ll save the cost of an entire plane ticket by doing so! However, says Delaware, it’s much safer and easier for everyone (including your child) to have their own seat.

Follow directions—Even if they do go against your instincts. We’re all familiar with the pre-flight safety instructions that instruct adults to put their own oxygen masks on before helping children. As a parent, though, your instinct might be to assist your child the moment masks drop from above, regardless of your own safety.

Stick with renting vehicles - In other words, don’t rent car or booster seats. Avoid borrowing them from friends or family members, too.

“If you know what to expect and plan ahead, your child’s safety won’t be something you have to worry about in the midst of holiday air travel,” concludes Delaware. “Your family’s holiday memories will center around a great visit with people you love, not mishaps on the way to or from your destination.”

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Win a Girls Getaway to Florida's Emerald Coast

Win a Girls Getaway to Florida's Emerald Coast in the Girls Getaway Guide's 12 Days til Christmas
Getaway Giveaway!!

One lucky winner will enjoy two-night accommodations at Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa in a beach view deluxe junior suite overlooking emerald green waters and sugar white sands plus a $150 resort credit to use towards spa treatments or activities valued at $588.

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