What’s your dream vacation destination?

This post is my entry in Fly Thomas Cook’s Valentine’s competition. All travel ideas and declarations of love are my own!

I love dreaming up new getaways, and living in Barcelona means nearly all parts of the EU are accessible. In the last four months, I’ve been to Cadaques, Figueres, Sitges and Tossa de Mar in Spain, and I’ve hopped flights to Istanbul and Paris.

Weather-wise, Barcelona has been acting like a petulant teen lately: warm some days, cold (and windy) others, and fairly unpredictable. It’s got me longing for beach days, sundresses and fruity cocktails. And it’s got me plotting an island excursion.

I’ve always dreamed about visiting Tenerife in the Canary Islands. For one thing, there are miles and miles of coastline and beautiful beaches.

photo by Webber264 on flickr

photo by Webber264 on flickr

For another, there’s Canarian cuisine like pollo al salmorejo (chicken marinated in garlic, pepper, cumin, paprika and white wine) and papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes).

And there’s Loro Parque, where you can see the world’s biggest collection of parrots.

Above all, it’s home to Pico del Teide, Spain’s tallest peak, an ideal place to hike above the clouds and stargaze. When I saw this timelapse video of Teide by ISO Photography, I was completely sold on Tenerife – and even a little teary-eyed. The beauty is  other worldly.

The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

Fly Thomas Cook is running a Valentine’s-themed travel blogging contest, and I want them to make my beach-combing, cocktail-imbibing, parrot-visiting, star-gazing dreams come true and send me to Tenerife!

youngadventuress

picture from youngadventuress.com

I’ve got a travel blogger/friend crush on Liz from Young Adventuress, and she’d be the perfect hypothetical companion for a Valentine’s weekend in Tenerife.

She takes risks, dreams big and is as obsessed with tortilla de patata as I am.

She also knows how to attract some questionable male attention, so I’m sure we’d be able to get ourselves in trouble and pick up local company for a sexy Valentine’s double date. Sunbathing and skinny dipping, anyone? What happens in Tenerife stays in Tenerife … Actually, that’s not entirely true because I’m sure we’d both blog about it!

Where would you go if you won a trip to the Canary Islands? What’s your dream destination?

2.5 days in Istanbul, Turkey

I meant to write about my trip to Istanbul a long time ago. Life has been busy and full, and I kept putting if off. Also, I’m still having a hard time figuring out how to describe Istanbul. In a word: crammed. And another: bold. And another: delicious.

Istanbul

I flew into the Ataturk airport on a Friday afternoon, then spent over 2 hours on the bus to Taksim Square in traffic. Though the airport is only 24 kilometers from the city center, there’s a big construction project going on right now – and, apparently, lots of weekend traffic in general. I sat next to a Turkish man who struck up a conversation with me and was beyond shocked that I’d flown into Istanbul alone. He told me the city’s emergency phone number over and over (“1, 1, 2! 1, 1, 2! That’s two 1s and one 2. Repeat it back to me!”) and asked if he should stay on the bus past his stop to help me find mine. (I politely declined.)

Later that night, I met up with Shelby and Tracy and Michael, and we spent the next 2 days trying to see and do as much as possible.

with Tracy

Reunited with Tracy after several months – and coping with the cold nights in Istanbul.

This post is going to quickly turn into a novel if I don’t change tack now, so let me present … Istanbul in lists! And pictures!

A whirlwind tour of Sultanahmet and Taksim

We packed our first day with mosques and bazaars and sites in Istanbul’s old city, Sultanahmet. Since we stayed on Istanbul’s modern side (in a neighborhood one metro stop away from Taksim Square), we had a good walk from Taksim Square, down Istiklal Street and across Galata Bridge to the Old City.

What we saw: Taksim Square, Galata Tower and Galata Bridge, Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace

Istiklal Street

Walking down Istiklal Street toward Galata Bridge. (See that box on the left? It’s being carried on a man’s back.)

fishermen

Fishermen along Galata Bridge with the Old Town in the background

Grand Bazaar

We wandered along the edge of the Grand Bazaar and quickly got overwhelmed by the masses of people. (The Bazaar takes up more than 61 streets and includes more than 3,000 shops. Damn.)

Blue Mosque

Pictures don’t do justice to the Blue Mosque. It’s enormous and majestic – and completely exceeded my expectations.

Blue Mosque

Side facade of the mosque

Blue Mosque

The inside of the Blue Mosque is also incredible, though I must admit it felt a little strange to be in a hoard of tourists wandering around the middle of the mosque – taking pictures – while locals prayed on their hands and knees at the front and back.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, a former basilica and then a mosque (and now a museum), sits across from the Blue Mosque.

Getting lost in Kadikoy

On day two, we took a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. (How cool is it that Istanbul straddles two continents?*) We didn’t have much of plan and got thoroughly lost in Kadikoy.

on the ferry

The ferry ride itself is worth it, even if you don’t get off on the other side. With full views of both the European and Asian sides, you get a good sense of architectural differences.

posing

We had a couple *crazy Americans* photo-taking sessions …

tracy and michael

… including making Tracy & Michael pose for this anniversary-esque photo.

view

The tower in the water is called Leander’s Tower and was built in 408 B.C. (B.C.!) to control ships moving through Borphorous Strait.

Kadikoy

Kadikoy felt a little less busy than the European side, with far fewer tourists.

Nightlife

With just 3 nights in the city, we definitely didn’t have enough time to thoroughly explore Istanbul’s neighborhoods, but we did our best to get out and enjoy the nightlife. On the first and second nights, we found bars in the Beyoglu neighborhood – so many of them have live music – and on our last night, Shelby and I drank raki (Turkey’s version of ouzo) in a smoky piano bar in the Sisli neighborhood.

raki

I quite dislike the flavor of anise, but I couldn’t leave IST without trying the raki!

Shelby

After drinks, we scoped out Sisli and had a memorable experience in nearby bakery, when the Turkish guy closing down shop gave us free chocolates and cookies in exchange for an impromptu English lesson.

Food

I’m a sucker for all things sweet, so of course I loved trying different versions of baklava every day. And, holy hell, does Istanbul know what to do with spices! After three months in a region that doesn’t seem to give a damn about spicy food (sorry, Catalonia), I was thoroughly bowled over to be met with flavor and spice at every meal in Istanbul.

baklava

8 different types of baklava? Yes, please.

street food

Street food – especially chestnuts – on nearly every corner

IST-LaTerne

One of our favorite meals was at LaTerne cafe. When we pointed at a dish they’d just delivered to a man at the table next to us, they literally took it away from him and gave it to us! We tried to protest, but apparently the man was a friend of theirs, and they wanted us – the guests – to eat first.

spices

Spice attack! Be still, my spice-lovin’ heart.

Now I’m simply plotting when I can return to Istanbul for a second trip – and also make my way to other parts of Turkey. First on the list? Cappadocia. I mean, look at this insanity:

Cappadoccia

++++

* Did you know there are actually 4 transcontinental cities? Istanbul is the largest and most well-known, of course, but the others are: Atyrau, Kazakhstan (Europe/Asia), Orenburg, Russia (Europe/Asia) and Suez, Egypt (Africa/Asia).

takin’ it easy

Since last week’s race, I’ve let myself have a full week of easy workouts and rest days. Between Sunday and Thursday, I did just two short runs (one for 20 minutes, the other for 45 minutes), one short session on the elliptical and two days of rest. The next days looked like this:

Friday: 2 hour hike (lots of uphill)

Saturday: nothing

Sunday: hip hop class

It’s kind of wonderful to take it easy and have a break from running, but I’m itching to push myself again.

My rest week coincided nicely with a short trip to Denver, so of course I found other things to do besides running. Namely, eating & drinking & talking & hiking & being silly with friends.

Some pics from the trip …

with Heather

Heather & I met halfway in Denver (she flew out from Nashville).

group shot

Denver friends, enjoying dinner & wine & Annie’s backyard.

slide

Totally cheesing it up on a slide!

hike

A gorgeous hike in Frisco, CO

hike 2

More pics from the hike

obstacle course

We found an obstacle course for children while at a street fair in Frisco. So, naturally, we had to race each other.

Now, I’m considering training for the Portland Marathon, but I’m hedging for two reasons: 1) Even though I loved the half marathon, 26.2 miles still sounds like an enormous leap from 13.1 and 2) Do I really want to be training in the summer?

Sure, the weather will be lovely, but there are also lots of distractions: barbecues, happy hours, camping trips, out-of-town trips, etc. Can I really keep up a touch training schedule through the summer? I’m not sure.

But I really want a new running challenge to look forward to.

What do you think? Should I go for it? And what about you? Are you training for any summer/early fall races?

Chicago, I love you!

We still need to catch up on runs/workouts (or lack thereof) from last week …

So, I’m going to put my next form focus post on hold (you can see the first post of six here) and tell you about my Chicago trip instead. I don’t really talk about my life outside of running & working out here, but I’m going to make an exception for Chicago. (I fall a little bit more in love with that city every time I visit. I only sort of appreciated it when I went to college there.)

Friday: 8-9 mile run in Chicago neighborhoods

Saturday: nothing (Does dancing at a blues bar count?)

Sunday: nothing (Does practically-competitive pancake eating count?)

Well, at least I got in a long-ish (for me) run on Friday. I started at my cousin’s apartment in Roscoe Village and headed east toward Lake Michigan, past Wrigley Field.

Wrigley Field

This picture is kind of postcard-worthy, IMHO. (Minus the truck darting in from the right.)

The weather was gorgeous. The sort of sunny, slightly breezy Chicago day that tempts me to move back. And then I remind myself of December – March days and change my mind.

I continued until I hit the lakefront, then ran south through Lincoln Park toward downtown.

Chicago

Hello, beautiful skyline. (Yep, this photo is Instagrammed.)

My Garmin was going strong for the first 4.5 miles of the run or so (I didn’t care about my speed, but did want to track my distance), and then it gave me a Low Battery message. About 3 seconds later, it shut off. (Well, my, thanks for the fair warning. Guess I know now that I need to keep it basically fully charged at all times. Low Battery means no battery.)

I forgot what a running city Chicago is. There were so many runners, bikers and roller bladers along the lake. And even a guy wearing Air Kicks Anti-Gravity Boots (I kid you not — I wish I’d gotten a picture).

runners

Running along the lake with lots of people = instant energy boost.

After I’d gone for what I thought might be around 5-6 miles, I looped back toward my cousin’s. I would’ve liked to see exactly how far I ran, but I’m guessing it was around 8-9 miles. (I cut through and did a bit of a shortcut on the way back, so I know I didn’t do another 5-6 miles after the first.) With my first half marathon in 5 years coming up in just over 3 weeks, I know I need to put more mileage in my long run this upcoming weekend. I’m slightly nervous about that.

How come I didn’t run on Saturday or Sunday? Well, I was busy hanging with these girls:

in Chicago

That’s cousin Hannah on the left and cousin Emma on the right. <3

We did some Big Time Eating and some Big Time Cocktailing. It was fun. And lazy and gluttonous and just what a vacation should be.

Here we are at Blokes & Birds:

Blokes & Birds

Bubbles and cheesy grins

And at Kingston Mines:

Kingston Mines

I never go to clubs — I was feeling faaancy. (I even wore jewelry.)

And at Walker Bros. Pancake House with Aunt Pat on Mother’s Day:

Walker Bros.

Happy to all be together — and full from our share of omelettes and pancakes.

And in Pat’s backyard:

in Pat's backyard

Emma and I look a little under-dressed compared to Hannah’s high fashion. (Show off.) (Kidding. You’re adorable.)

We took A LOT of pictures. I’ll spare you the rest.

But I will tell you that if you’re in Chicago and looking for meals that you’ll be thinking of long after you return home, you should definitely eat at Mia Francesca (sit in the little courtyard in the back) and Twist (get the goat cheese, corn cakes and chocolate pie). I’m feeling nostalgic about those meals already — and wishing I didn’t leave my prosciutto pizza leftovers in Hannah’s fridge.

Up next: back to Portland and running technique (perhaps not as fun as chocolate pie, but fairly important for the goals & races at hand).