In the United States? Catch a free ride with the Kindness Cab

the kindness cabFrom now up until November 13, 2011, anyone located in between Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, California, can catch a free ride in a 1985 London Sterling taxi. CouchSurfer Leon Logothetis started driving the Kindness Cab in a an effort to give back to the community as well as raise money for charity. If you’re interested in hitching a ride with him, you can click here to follow his whereabouts and connect.

Years ago, Logothetis hitchhiked from New York to L.A., relying on the kindness of strangers to get around. Now, as he re-traces his original route, he is repaying the favor. On his first day in New York, he drove thirteen hours and picked up thirty passengers. The entire journey will end on November 13, 2011, World Kindness Day.

Here is a list of where and when you can catch the Kindness Cab next:

October 31- Chicago
November 3- St. Louis
November 7- Denver
November 9- Santa Fe
November 10- Phoenix
November 11- Las Vegas
November 13- Los Angeles

Knocked up abroad: applying for a baby’s passport

baby passportAs my new baby girl was born in a foreign country, getting a passport was a necessity for her to even return home to America. Though Vera was born in Turkey, she’s an American citizen by virtue of her parents’ citizenship and entitled to a US passport. For Americans born outside the country, the US consulate issues a Report of Birth Abroad that acts as an official birth certificate and proof of US citizenship. After a trip to the US to visit family and a vacation in Malta, Vera’s been in three countries before she reached three months of age and is rapidly racking up passport stamps.

As soon as we brought the baby home from the hospital, the first order of business on the road to getting her baby passport was getting her Turkish birth certificate. While not required by the US consulate, it is necessary in order to get her residence permit, required for anyone staying longer in Turkey than the 90-day tourist visa. I learned that I could obtain this at my local registry office with a letter stating that I had given birth at the American Hospital (this is provided in both Turkish and English by the hospital). I set out with my one-week old baby in her stroller, sleeping peacefully, assuming that the office would be a short walk from our apartment given the local address. An hour later, I had walked as far as one of Istanbul’s busy highways, dripping sweat, in tears, and definitely lost. Google Maps is generally a useful tool for many city addresses, but for some parts of Istanbul, you may as well be mapping a jungle. I enlisted the help of some Turkish friends who found a satellite image of the office online and emailed it to me. In true Turkish fashion, the registry office is actually two streets away from the mailing address and no one in the area can give you an exact street number when you are frantically seeking directions.When we finally got to the registry office, I took a number, left my stroller downstairs (in Turkey, you can trust that no one will steal it, but I did take the baby out first) and went in search of the counter for birth certificates. Naturally, Vera chose the moment I was filling out a form to launch into her first meltdown. As I struggled to write down my contact information and covertly feed her, I was ushered behind the counter and installed at a random guy’s desk, with an old Turkish lady practically forcing me to sit down and nurse the baby. Once the baby was content, I returned to the birth certificate lady but was met with a new obstacle in the form of a major language barrier. Fortunately, another man waiting at the registry office was able to translate for me – I would need to come back with all of our passports, residence permits, and marriage certificate from the US. The next day I returned armed with every possible bit of documentation and while every woman in the office gathered around Vera, exclaiming over her cuteness and wondering why the crazy foreigner was taking her baby out in public so early, I provided information for the birth certificate. I needed more translation help, as you are asked questions about your education level and religion (Islam is the default in Turkey, so many non-religious Turks are still considered Muslim even if they are non-practicing), which I couldn’t answer in Turkish but there is generally always someone around who can speak English. A few more rubber stamps and Maşallahs and I had her birth certificate.

Next step was a passport photo, a seemingly easy task that is particularly challenging the younger the baby you have. The US State Department requires that the baby look at the camera with eyes open, and that the photo be taken with a white background and nothing in the photo such as your hand or a baby seat. Newborns tend to sleep a lot and their vision is quite hazy, so getting them to be alert and somewhat focused on something is easier said than done. While some parents might opt to take the photo themselves, I decided to go to a professional rather than try to mess with the correct measurements and angles myself. One afternoon when Vera was barely two weeks old, I waited until she seemed awake and took her down the street in her carrier. The five-minute walk immediately put her back to sleep, so the photographer and I tried everything we could think of to wake her and get her attention. Somehow a half hour of tickling and a Turkish man yelling “kız bebek!” (baby girl) only made her sleep more deeply. Finally, we managed to get the photo you see above, which will remain her passport photo and primary means of identification until she’s five years old. Though some online information led me to believe they may not accept the picture due to her open mouth, the US consulate approved it for use.

Passport photo in hand at last, we made an appointment with the US consulate to apply for her US passport and Report of Birth Abroad, which will serve as her official birth certificate. The paperwork for this report turned out to be slightly more complex than anticipated, as it requires precise dates of presence both in the United States and abroad for each parent. If you keep good records, this could be simple and straightforward. As I’ve traveled frequently for the past decade and have been living in Istanbul for over a year, this took a lot of time to estimate using passport stamps, old travel confirmations in my email, photo date stamps, and anything else that could give me an idea of dates I spent outside of America. You are also required to provide documentation of the parents’ citizenship (my husband is Russian-born, so we needed the approximate date and place of naturalization), marriage (if applicable, it’s a whole other can of worms if the parents are not married), and dissolution of any previous marriages, which can result in some frantic emails to friends back home and calls to US registry offices if you don’t travel with all your paperwork.

The US consulate in Istanbul is far from the city center (you can take Metro to İTÜ Ayazağa and then a quick taxi ride) and resembles a fortress on a hill, with American-style maximum security. Most places in Istanbul with metal detectors, including the entrance to the airport, allowed me to skip security while pregnant (I got a cursory pat down at the airport) and often with the baby, and often ignore metal objects that cause the detectors to beep. At the consulate, I forgot to remove my camera from my purse and was yelled at when I attempted to remove it myself (“Ma’am! Step away from the bag!”). After clearing security, we waited in the US Citizen’s Services room to present the baby and our paperwork. There was another couple waiting with their month-old baby which turned out to be their sixth child, and they were fairly blasé about the fact that they had come from Iraq to have the baby in Istanbul (we guessed military family) and planned to return home to the US only two weeks after applying for the passport. Presenting our own paperwork turned out to be easier than expected, as they only needed to see that we had in fact lived in the US before, but it’s a good idea to have all of your travel dates on hand in case you are questioned. Finally, we paid our $205 for the report and passport, and had them both delivered to our home one week later (compare that to the weeks it usually takes to get a passport at home!).

We planned our first trip out of Turkey for when Vera would be six weeks old, which was just enough time to get all of our paperwork in order and feel competent enough as parents to travel. She will receive her Turkish residency next month after she is four months old. When we went through passport control leaving Istanbul, there was some confusion as she had no visa or residence permit and we were prepared to pay a fee to leave the country, but we were eventually allowed to pass through free and only purchase a tourist visa when we re-entered Turkey that will cover her until her residency is established. Now the adventure would really begin: actually traveling with a baby.

Stay tuned for tips on traveling with a baby and destination guides for foreign travel with a baby. Waiting for baby to arrive? Check out past Knocked Up Abroad articles on traveling while pregnant and what to expect when you’re expecting in Turkey.

Chicago named most mustache-friendly city in America

Chicago named most Mustache-Friendly city in the United States and is planning a 'Stache Bash to celebrate.Chicago has recently been named the most “mustache-friendly” city in the United States by the American Mustache Institute (AMI). The research came in response to a “long-existing pattern of social and professional discrimination against Mustached Americans”.

Apparently, Chicago is leading the way in providing an ideal living and working environment for Mustached Americans. In fact, Dr. Aaron Xavier Perlut, chairman of AMI, claims, “Its vast pool of professional opportunities in first-responder fields and in the fishing industry centered around Lake Michigan, along with the heritage of retired Chicago Bears players who have continued to embrace a Mustached American lifestyle helped to set the Windy City Apart.”

Of course, with every achievement comes a celebration, which is why Chicago will be hosting a ‘Stache Bash on Friday, October 28, 2011, at Joe’s Bar on Weed Street. Tickets are $25 and include entertainment and beers. The event will serve as the opening for Movember, a world-wide mustache-growing charity campaign that works to raise awareness and contributions for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG, the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

The 5 ugliest states in the country

ugliest statesThey say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. San Francisco Examiner writer and occasional Gadling contributor Bob Ecker doesn’t behold much, at least for a few unlucky states. Ecker previously named the prettiest US states including coastal California, exotic Hawaii, diverse New York, historic Virginia, and verdant Washington. He’s now determined the unfortunate ugliest states, measured by landscape, not people:

  • Connecticut: the Constitution State is called a “suburban hell”
  • Delaware: small and boring
  • Kansas: land-locked and a “throwback,” in a bad way
  • Nevada: outside of Las Vegas, it’s a “desolate and forbidding wasteland” (what about Lake Tahoe, Bob?)
  • Oklahoma: another flat, hot, and boring state (don’t tell Lonely Planet’s Robert Reid, an OK native)

Obviously the article is tongue in cheek — there are beautiful corners in every great state in this country — but Ecker’s skewering provides a good starting point for thinking about vacation destinations. Do these places deserve to be called ugly? What do you think the ugliest states are?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Taking Denny’s Tour of America

Denny’s – America’s Diner – recently introduced their Tour of America menu. The chain attempted to capture the essence of America’s diverse cuisines in seven dishes and three beverages. However, it’s not really a tour if you only order one meal. That simple thought led Gadling to send me to New Jersey with Erik Trinidad, food writer for the Huffington Post and creator of Fancy Fast Food, to sample Denny’s entire Tour of America menu. We ordered all ten items and took a trip around the United States without ever leaving our booth.

Were the dishes accurate representations of their regions? Does Hawaii deserve three dishes when it’s the 40th most populous state? Is eating that much food at Denny’s good for you?

Watch the video to see if we managed to answer any of these pressing questions and read on for more on the Tour of America.

%Gallery-129528%It’s hard to have high expectations when it comes to Denny’s. That said, we always have high expectations for America. This conflict was evidenced in the inconsistency of the dishes.

Philly Cheesesteak Omelette

There are certain things that you expect from a Philly Cheesesteak, not the least of which is the thinly shaved beef. The omelette, however, featured chunks of prime rib. That’s just not right. Add to that the noticeably modest amount of cheese (and it’s not even Cheez Whiz) and lack of bread and nothing about this was related to a Philly cheesesteak. It’s a good omelette, but it’s not a Philly Cheesesteak Omelette.

gadling denny's tour of america shrimp gritsSouthern Shrimp & Grits

Erik and I were nervous about this one. I mean, it’s shellfish…at Denny’s. That said, this was a delightfully delicious surprise. The grits were initially bland, but once you mixed them with the bacon and jalapenos, the dish really came to life. The Lowcountry would be proud!

Georgia Peach French Toast

The french toast was bland. The peaches were most likely from a can. Nothing about this was remotely good. You want to serve a Georgia breakfast? Give me a chicken biscuit and just back away.

Midwestern Steak & Potatoes Sandwich

My favorite dish on the entire menu. How can you go wrong with chunks of prime rib (the same cuts used in the Philly Cheesesteak Omelette, only this time much more appropriate), cheese, french fries, gravy, a cheese roll and a side of mashed potatoes with more gravy. Hearty, comforting and straightforward. Just like the Midwest.

California Club Salad

You don’t need to be from California or a member of any club to know that this is just a salad. A salad loaded with turkey, bacon and avocado, yes, but simply a salad nonetheless.

Hawaiian Tropical Pancake Breakfast

Only three pieces of pineapple? Seriously? The pancakes are bland (would it have killed them to mix some macadamia nuts into the batter?) and the coconut whipped topping is basically just cake frosting. Which is to say, we highly recommend eating the whipped topping and ignoring the pancakes, which are neither Hawaiian nor flavorful.

gadling denny's tour of america menu hawaiian pancake puppiesHawaiian Tropical Pancake Puppies

OK, we get it: pineapples are Hawaiian. As are the coconut shavings on the outside of these pseudo-beignets. But we’ve never seen these little bite-sized confections anywhere on the archipelago. However, they are delicious and most certainly the best sweet item on the entire Tour of America menu. What they lack in authenticity they more than make up for in crunchy goodness. Aloha!

Hawaiian Tropical Smoothie

Easily the most accurate of the regional beverages on the menu. You taste pineapple, banana and other tropical fruits and it seems like it was freshly made. If I closed my eyes and took a sip, I could almost feel like I was in Hawaii…or at least in a better restaurant than Denny’s.

Florida Orange Milk Shake

Quite simply, it tastes like an orange Creamsicle. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not a Florida thing. When I was a kid, my grandmother used to send us packages of oranges from Florida. We’d juice them and enjoy the fresh-squeezed citrus sensation. This drink was not fresh and it was barely orange.

Pacific Northwest Iced Coffee

Folks from Seattle and Portland take their coffee seriously. As such, they should be offended by this offering. It was quite possibly the worst thing on the entire Tour of America menu. It basically tasted like sweetened condensed milk with just a hint of coffee. People of the Pacific Northwest, write to your congresspeople….or to Denny’s. Just don’t drink this beverage.

Some hits, some misses. Overall, the spirit of America was felt (mostly in how this menu could make anyone morbidly obese). However, simply slapping the name of a place on a dish doesn’t make it authentic. Things like Philly cheesesteaks are best left to the experts. Or at least left as sandwiches.

Representatives from New England, New York, Texas (which is its own region and not simply a part of at the South) and the Southwest were sorely missed. Hawaii is over-represented and, if I was Alaskan, I would find that insulting. Seems like we could have had some sockeye salmon in there somewhere!

It was an interesting trip, though, and isn’t that all you can really ask for from any tour of America?