Knocked up abroad: pregnant travel in the first trimester

For more on pregnant travel, see parts 1 and 2 of Knocked up abroad: pregnancy in a foreign country here and here.

There’s no question that having a baby changes you: your body, your lifestyle, even your shoe size. One thing I hoped not to change altogether was traveling, as long as it was reasonably safe and comfortable for me and the baby. From the beginning of my pregnancy in Istanbul, my doctor has okayed travel, as long as I get up to stretch frequently on flights and try not to overdo it. Most doctors (and mothers) agree that the second trimester is the most comfortable time for pregnant travel but the first trimester can be a good time as well (while you can still squeeze into pre-maternity clothes and walk without waddling) with a little extra precaution and a little more babying (of the mother, of course).

The first trimester of pregnancy is a tricky time for many women: the risk of miscarriage is highest up to 10 weeks, morning sickness is common, and hormones are running wild. It’s too early to tell anyone outside family or close friends and without a visible belly, it’s impossible for strangers to tell as well. At later points in your pregnancy, a baby bump acts as the international symbol for pregnancy and can make it much easier to express your condition when traveling abroad. If you travel in the early months before showing, you may want to learn the local language words for “I’m pregnant” to avoid a Bridget Jones-esque “mit kinder” scene if you need extra help while traveling.

Over this past December, my husband and I were looking for a good trip to take over the holidays, when I was around 10 weeks pregnant. Our location in Istanbul changes the list of short-haul destinations considerably from what we would have considered from New York, and we debated between a warm-weather beach destination (husband) or a snowy and “Christmassy” European city (me). We ruled out Egypt (not warm enough and not Christmassy), New Zealand (even less convenient to get to than from New York), and Sri Lanka (not enough time to plan properly and some risks of disease I couldn’t be vaccinated against). In the end, we chose…Russia.
Going to Russia in winter while pregnant may seem crazy to some, but for me it made sense: Moscow and St. Petersburg are a few hours from Istanbul by direct flight, my husband speaks fluent Russian in case of any problems, and there was no risk of malaria or eating any food that had spoiled in the sun. While it was cold and snowing during our trip and I couldn’t take advantage of some of Russia’s cold-weather remedies like vodka and saunas, a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg was a perfect mix of exotic and comfortable.

Nearly every cafe had a variety of non-alcoholic and caffeine-free beverages for me to choose from, I even had non-alcoholic sangria, mojitos, and mulled wine in addition to fresh juices and herbal teas. Both cities are beautiful to explore in the snow, with plenty of museums and cafes to warm up in, and the New Year holiday displays made it festive.

If you are planning a trip to a foreign country while pregnant, it makes sense to keep in mind the following guidelines. Always discuss plans with your doctor before booking and err on the side of caution when choosing a destination.

Check airline restrictions – Most airlines allow pregnant women to fly internationally up to 28 weeks, after which you must provide a doctor’s note issued within a week or so of departure. 35 weeks (earlier for women carrying multiples) is the cutoff for nearly all airlines to prevent women from giving birth on board. Most US domestic carriers will allow pregnant women to fly up to the final month; hilariously, Continental will not let women board if “physical signs of labor are present” though they don’t specify what.

Consider travel insurance – If your medical insurance doesn’t cover you overseas, you may want to look into supplementary medical travel insurance, but be sure it covers pregnancy as many policies do not. Additionally, if you are traveling to a country where English is not spoken, you may want to research the name of a clinic or doctor in case of emergency as well.

Be prepared for jet lag – Before pregnancy, I had little issues with jet lag, trying to get on local time as soon as possible. I discovered when flying back from the US to Turkey that it hits you much harder as a pregnant traveler, especially as you can’t use sleeping pills or alcohol to help you sleep. Factor this into your schedule and give yourself plenty of time to acclimate and adjust to time changes.

Realize your limits have changed – On a usual trip, I’d be up early to walk around a city all day, have a late lunch (or maybe just a big afternoon beer) followed by more museums and exploration, and still be up for checking out the local nightlife. Once pregnant, I required more sleep and three solid meals a day (plus maybe some snacks, I am eating for two!), tired after walking short distances, and was ready to call it a night long before last call. If you have an itinerary, pare it down to the must-sees and double the time to see everything; better to take it easy and enjoy your trip than feel exhausted and sick.

Look for destinations that don’t require vaccinations – One of the first tests your doctor will give you after confirming pregnancy will be for immunizations to hepatitis and rubella. If you haven’t had the vaccines, they will have to wait until after the baby is born as they are not safe for pregnant women. I have not had the hepatitis vaccine yet, and thus have a greater risk of contracting it, which rules out much of Africa and southeast Asia for travel, but also means I must avoid raw vegetables including salad in Istanbul. Most other medications and vaccines commonly given to travelers before going to an area prone to Malaria, Typhoid or Yellow Fever are not advised for pregnant women. But there’s still a big world out there, check the CDC for destination-specific information.

Be extra aware of food and water safety – Pregnant women are more susceptible to food poisoning the average person, as the immune system is suppressed so it doesn’t reject the fetus. This is the reason most pregnant women are told to avoid sushi and food that is not prepared in sanitized conditions. Even adventurous eaters should play it safe while pregnant and drink bottled water when in doubt. I recently had an opportunity to visit Mumbai, India but after consulting with a few friends who had lived there, I worried I’d spend the trip inside my hotel room eating pre-packaged food. Again,

check the CDC and use the same common sense you’d use anytime while traveling: stick with food that is freshly prepared in restaurants full of people.

Stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel, including Turkish superstitions and customs, travelling in the second trimester, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country. Check here for further updates.

[Photo courtesy Mike Barish from the Istanbul tram]

Russian truck transports plane through St. Petersburg streets

I just know there is a “In Russia….” joke to be made here. The photo shows the elaborate transport of a U.S. owned Eclipse private jet. The plane was being transported from the airport to a convention center where it was scheduled to be put on display.

According to the story, during transport, the truck hit the nose of the plane which messed up the entire plan. Originally, the plane was supposed to be driven several miles to a river, and be barged up the river to the convention center. But because of the damage, the truck was delayed, and the barge left, forcing the truck to make its delivery entirely by road.

The plane is an Eclipse 500, one of the products of the Eclipse Aviation company, which went bankrupt in 2008. More photos of the plane in question (without a broken nose) can be found here.


[Story/photos from: English Russia]

Courtyard by Marriott opens 2 new properties in Europe

The Courtyard by Marriott chain of hotels is in the middle of a major revamp – but at the same time, the chain is working hard to expand across Europe.

The chain already has 40 properties and over 7,000 rooms in Europe, and today, they announced the two newest additions to their lineup – Budapest and St. Petersburg.

The 235-room Courtyard Budapest City Center is located on Blaha Luiza Square in the Pest section of Budapest. The hotel is located in close proximity to both the airport and public transportation lines.

The new 273-room Courtyard St. Petersburg Center West/Pushkin Hotel is located in central St. Petersburg within a 10-minute walk of the Marinsky Theater and St. Nicholas Cathedral and the State Hermitage. It is Marriott’s second Courtyard-branded hotel in St. Petersburg.

Both properties feature everything that makes a Courtyard such a great pick – high speed Internet, the Grab & Go snack market, flat screen TV’s and a well designed work area.

The two new properties are open and ready for guests – to learn more about them, and the 848 other locations in the chain, check out the Courtyard by Marriott site.

The 20 greatest cities in the world for foodies

Once upon a time, the world’s food capitals were a mere few well-known locales like Paris, New York, and Bangkok. All the action (and the eyes, and the forks) were focused there.

Recently, though, many areas of the world have expanded and improved both their menus and their talents in the kitchen, resulting in far more places staking their claims in the classy world of quality dining. Similarly, other cities have quietly cultivated some of the most amazing farmer’s markets on the globe, and their passion for fresh food has spread throughout their communities. Taken together, the following are the crème de la crème — the Greatest Cities in the World for Foodies.

Sydney, Australia

Australia imports very little of its produce; the great majority is harvested from local fields and farms promising fresh, flavorful dishes with the very best of in-season fruits and vegetables. In addition, the open-air Sydney Fish Market showcases the best and freshest seafoods from both the local area and from around the world. The Fish Market is an excellent place to shop, to grab some of the world’s finest sushi, and even to take some cooking classes in their recently renovated facility. For those soon to visit, here’s a list of prizewinning eateries in the Sydney area.

Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China
China’s south coast is a celebration of amazing foods. If you’ve got a taste for Asian-fusion, or the best dim-sum on earth, this is your city. The amount and variety of dining options is stunning, and whether you’re interested in street-side vendors, feasting in Yung-Kee where as many as five-thousand guests dine on their roasted goose every day (!), or meals carefully prepared by five-star chefs, Hong Kong has it on the menu.San Francisco, California, USA
For many foodophiles, San Francisco is a potentially surprising pick. However, what most don’t know is that San Francisco actually has a strong culinary heritage that began largely as the coincidental landing pad for many immigrants arriving in the United States from Asia. The melting pot of different flavors, traditions, and recipes that cultivated there spawned dozens of powerful contenders in the culinary industry. Combine that with one of the worlds strongest and most vibrant wine cultures and it doesn’t seem surprising at all for San Fransisco to make this list.

Pro tip: The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is held Tuesday and Saturday offering produce from small regional farmers and ranchers, many of whom are certified organic. If you don’t feel like buying fruits and veggies, the market also offers sweets, cheeses, and wines.

Melbourne, Australia
The Botanical, the Koko, the Vue de Monde… some argue that Melbourne is the food capital of Australia, and for good reason. Melbourne is host to some of the most fantastic dining establishments in the world, and might just have more restaurants than any other city on the continent. Its strong fashion sense and sharp clientele demand a classy dining experience and only the tastiest cuisine can last in a city with such competition. Award winners abound in central Melbourne, so any visit here is unlikely to disappoint.

Rome, Italy
It’s been said that it’s hard to eat poorly in Rome (or even perhaps anywhere in Italy). Here, at the birthplace of our modern pastas, you can expect the well known tradition of Italian dining to be at its absolute best, and like San Fransisco: the wine culture is certainly at the top of its class. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a load of money, though. Both five star class and some enticing cheap eats are available on just about every corner of the old city.

Mumbai, India
Any foodie looking for a taste of truly authentic India will be satisfied (and stuffed!) here. No matter what variety you’re looking for, be it coastal cuisine or seafood, a good kebab, or just some hot tandoori, it doesn’t get any better than this. The unique spices and flavors native to India offer a festival for the palate you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. Stop in to any one of the “innumerable restaurants” in the area and be prepared for something spicy! You won’t be able to say “naan” to these choices!

Montreal, Canada

Fresh, hot breads, rich and bitey cheeses, smoked meats, and sweet wines… Montreal is a gift to the palette. It has a history rich in perhaps the most renowned culinary culture on earth: of course, we’re talking about the French. The selection of restaurants in Montreal, be they casual or upscale, will have something on the menu capable of teasing even the most fickle of palettes, and the ingredients are fresh, often grown locally and sometimes picked just that day.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina’s capital is awash with cafes and shops, many specializing in just a quick bite to eat and many others capable of bringing the full bodied Argentinian flair to your plate (a new experience for many, a regrettable one for none). What really makes Buenos Aires’ kitchens worthwhile is their infusion of Spanish and Italian influences that form unique nuances derived from both, but brought to full potency only here, in Argentina.

— The above was written by Caleb Roy, Seed contributor.

Chicago, Illinois, USA
Once you bite into a Chicago-style hotdog, you’ll wonder why you’ve ever eaten another type. A typical Chicago hot dog includes a pickle spear, relish, tomatoes, mustard, onion, and even a dash of celery salt. You can find hotdog stands and restaurants throughout Chicago so there is no need for extensive search. However, for a traditional experience, try the South side.

Stann Creek District, Belize
Local foods consist of surprisingly simple ingredients and include fried chicken, tamales, and rice and beans. Flavored with local spices and flavors, food lovers who enjoy the unusual will find common ground with those that love the familiar. There is something here for everyone.

To truly eat like a local, go into town (dubbed the “cultural capital of Belize”) instead of staying on the resorts. For an extra bit of pleasure, pair the food with a Belikin. It’s the national beer of Belize and worth every calorie.

Springfield, Illinois, USA
Not many people know Springfield, Illinois as a great food town, but let me tell you about something called the horseshoe. For those that love cheese and meat, you have found your heaven. It starts with a piece of Texas toast and is followed by any type of meat you want (although buffalo chicken is especially popular). Throw some french fries on top of the meat, and plaster cheese sauce on top of the fries. Restaurants throughout the town offer this staple of Springfield diets, but the West side is especially plentiful in horseshoe restaurants.

Avery Island is home to Tabasco, the greatest thing to happen to food since the plate. Factory tours run 7 days a week and cost $1.

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
If you love gumbo and jambalaya, take a trip to New Orleans for a traditional delight. In addition to the cajun food, make sure you try the fried pastries (beignets) paired with a cup of coffee while you’re in town. If you like to bar-hop and need a bit of liquor to cool your mouth from the jambalaya, try the French Quarter to move between establishments.

Pro tip: Nearby Avery Island is home to Tabasco, the greatest thing to happen to food since the plate. Factory tours run seven days a week, and cost a paltry $1.

Venice, Italy
Venice has been a traditional port city for centuries and chocolate helped make it rich. It’s a tradition that has never left this city on the water. Chocolate shops are located throughout the city. However, to visit the affordable shops, venture away from St. Mark’s and the tourist area; try Santa Croce and the San Polo areas instead.

To top it all off, try a sgroppino. It’s a traditional cocktail with vodka, sorbet, mint, and sparking white wine.

Edinburgh, Scotland
Haggis is only for the truly brave of heart. This traditional dish consists of sheep innards mixed with onion, spices, and even oatmeal. I’ve found that each haggis chef cooks it a bit differently, but all haggis reminds me of salisbury steak. Tourists flock to restaurants on the Royal Mile that offer it just for the experience. However, if you wish to taste a more traditional haggis, step off of the Royal Mile and into a small family run shop. It may be more traditional and not cater to sensitive tourist bellies.

— The above was written by Victoria Ross, Seed contributor.

London, England
As early as the 13th century a food market existed under London Bridge on the south side of the Thames. Today, Borough Market (pronounced Burrah) is one of the largest food markets in the world offering an impressive display of conventional and organic produce, cheese, meats, wild and exotic game, seafood, wine, and baked goods. There are also a number of stalls within the market that offer prepared food. Join the adventure and get into the longest line. Don’t worry about what’s being sold at the other end.

Of course, London has been for some time a major food destination. With tourism and travel booming, the restaurant industry has been able to flourish — producing such gems as triple Michelin Star winner The Fat Duck overseen by Heston Blumenthal and his 12-course menu; or the Tamarind, a classy, casual eatery serving Indian cuisine that often sees celebrities like Madonna popping in for a quick bite.

Barcelona, Spain
La Boqueria market dates back to 1217 and is one of the more charismatic and intimate food markets in the world, located just off La Rambla. In a city known for seductive architectural influences, La Boqueria stands out as a gem. Here you will find a wide variety of diverse and colorful foods (and characters).

Bologna, Italy
Everyone expects to find great food in Italy. If your travels do not include Bologna, you’ll miss out on one of Italy’s greatest masterpieces. Behind the grand arcades of Piazza Maggiore are cobblestone streets where greengrocers, fishmongers, cheese merchants, butchers and bakers have plied their fare since Caesar was in power. Here you will find Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Balsamic vinegar from nearby Modena, Parma ham and bags of tortellini hanging in shop windows. Impatient? There are countless restaurants and cafes worthy of their presence in this area of gastronomic heaven.

St. Petersburg, Russia
Did you know that Russians spend more money on food than any other European nation? It’s no wonder with options as the Yeliseyevsky Gastronom Market, housed in an Art Nouveau mansion built in 1901.

This grand emporium showcases exquisite seafood, meat, cheese, and baked goods. You will be amazed at the impressive quality and quantity of caviar on offer and will be hard pressed to find more opulent surroundings to showcase luxury items from around the world.

Tokyo, Japan
The Tsukiji fish market handles more than 2000 tons of seafood per day. A highlight of any visit to Tokyo is a 5am tour of the market to observe the auction of the most exquisite fish and the transfer of more than $5 billion US in this massive market complex each year. The best catches routinely find themselves prepared as world-class courses at restaurants such as Waketokuyama and Tsujitome.

Not only is Tsukiji the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, but it’s one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind, employing nearly 65,000. Just outside Tsukiji is an outdoor market offering not only exquisite seafood, but also produce and food-related goods, including an impressive selection of kitchen knives.

Toronto, Canada
A farmer’s market has been in existence at Front and Jarvis Street since 1803. Today, the St. Lawrence Market encompasses two buildings: the South Market, open throughout the week with more than 100 food vendors on the upper level, and hard-to-find exotic and international items on the lower level.

Every Saturday the North Market hosts a farmer’s market starting at 5am. Need inspiration? Located on the west mezzanine of the South Market, The Market Kitchen is a 2,400 square foot cooking school with exposed brick, 20 foot-high ceilings, and soaring views of the Toronto skyline.

— The above was written by BriBuenosAires, Seed contributor.

* 8 great bug-eating videos from around the world
* 10 great Anthony Bourdain “No Reservations” clips
* The 25 greatest cities in the world for drinking wine
* The 24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer

Bolshoi in Russia: The thing about hotels…

Greetings from St. Petersburg! Bolshoi in Russia is my variation on Big in Japan. (Bolshoi means “Big” in Russian. Get it?) Stay tuned for my live dispatches from Russia this week.

Did I mention how expensive Russia is? Oh yeah, I pretty much mention it in every blog, don’t I. It really is quite shocking how little you get for your money here. It’s one thing to travel around Southeast Asia and stay in crappy hotels for $20/night. You get what you pay for. Russia is different. That same crappy hotel will cost you more like $200 in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It often seems that Russia has all the disadvantages of a third world country (dirt, smog, poor services, etc) and none of its benefits (not cheap).

We stayed in one such crappy little hotel right on 44 Nevsky Blvd (the main drag in St. Petersburg). The hotel entrance is pictured here. The outside is really not the problem, although its classic communist realism look is not exactly the picture of hospitality. It’s the inside. It’s the smell.

One thing you’ll notice about a lot of Russian bathrooms is that they tend to smell bad. The reason? Poor plumbing. It was explained to me that they don’t use a “trap” in the shower. Hence, most bathrooms smell of raw sewage, worse than the New York subway on a hot summer day. All that for only $180/night.

They do give you breakfast with it, though. I even documented it for you: a piece of stale toast, piece of nondescript cheese, some tea and a yoghurt. What they don’t give you, however, is a place where you could eat that breakfast. So, you have to take it back to your room and enjoy it while sniffing the aroma coming out from the bathroom.

It was not nearly the worst hotel I have ever stayed at. It must be up there in terms of value for your money, however. The best thing to remember about Russia before going is that you will spend a lot of money and get very little in return. At the end of thee day, it’s all about expectations.

From Russia, with love.