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My Accidental Dinner Date with Royalty

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | July 14, 2015 | 43 Comments

I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I thrust one out to shake his, but that didn’t feel quite right. I hung my arms by my side and that felt worse. Finally I compromised. I clasped my hands together in front of me, waiting for a sign from each of the white-clad Arabs…

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Hambantota International: The World’s Emptiest Airport?

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | June 22, 2015 | 68 Comments

The dual carriageway could be anywhere… Germany, the US, Sweden… Its sharp new signs direct traffic off a wide ramp towards the spiffy airport, still smelling of clean since its inauguration in 2013. Except that my car is the only one on this road. I share part of the highway with a herd of buffalo.…

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The Countless Legends of Girona

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | May 11, 2015 | 12 Comments

Once upon a time, in the days of the Egyptian god Osiris, there lived somewhere to the south a giant monster with three heads, called Gerió. Seeking to enlarge his empire he headed north where he built a castle and founded a city that would one day bear his name: Geriona, today’s Girona. Or not. Perhaps Girona…

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Catalonia’s Castellers: A Peek Behind the Scenes

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | May 8, 2015 | 1 Comment

Imagine an agile six-year-old clambering up the face of a five-story building, waving from the top, then slithering back down. Leaves your throat dry, doesn’t it? Yet several times a week, that’s exactly what happens when the Castellers de la Vila de Gràcia rehearse their castells, or human towers. “It’s not as dangerous as it looks,” said Helena…

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The Bullet Ring: Asmara, Eritrea

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | March 27, 2015 | 0 Comments

I couldn’t take my eyes off her fingers. They were draped in bands of metal, dirty, gritty and dull, with scratches and bumps, uneven on the sides, carved from discarded bullets gathered in a place of war. Some were thin bands, others majestic constructs jutting into the air, ready to poke out an eye with…

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Hate LA? No way!

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | January 29, 2015 | 6 Comments

Few cities seem to generate such extreme opinions as Los Angeles. Do a quick online search and the ‘I Love LA’ crowd will be mirrored by the ‘I Can’t Stand LA’ contingent. Many of the ‘love LA’ers are paid to say so – the marketing and tourism boards, and the hotels and businesses anxious to draw visitors. So what…

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Which of These Two is the Best Food Market in Madrid?

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | January 21, 2015 | 5 Comments

Choosing the best food market in Madrid shouldn’t be too difficult. Madrid is, after all, a city to be eaten through, a city of interminable tapas, taverns, restaurants and bars with as much solid as liquid sustenance. And now it is also a city of markets, revitalized after years of decay. When I was a child growing up here, we…

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The Cuban Embargo: Memories of the Mouse that Roared

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | December 22, 2014 | 4 Comments

It was 1999 when I arrived on a two-month assignment to cover Cuba and my first thought as I left the airport was: “This country is a survivor.” Already into its fifth or sixth metamorphosis since the revolution overthrew a corrupt dictator, Cuba had become friends with the Soviet Union, survived the Eastern Bloc’s demise, crawled through the lean…

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Les Halles in Lyon: Saucisson, Snails and Sea Urchins

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | December 5, 2014 | 0 Comments

There’s a certain thrill about uncovering a new market, new to me at least, a place others rave about so much I’m sure to be disappointed. A shiver of anticipation rushes down my spine when I feel I’m about to discover something truly exquisite, without knowing exactly what lies ahead. Ever since I can remember I’ve loved great food…

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Six Hours in Florence [PHOTOS]

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | November 16, 2014 | 3 Comments

The most memorable time I visited Florence was for my 30th birthday, when friends flew me there to celebrate. I now live in France only a few hours away but I don’t go back often enough. I was recently invited to take a Tuscan cooking class near Pisa and spending a few hours in Florence was part of the…

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