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Part 1 – Anatomy of a Solo Female Backpacking Adventure: Choosing a Destination

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | July 20, 2016 | 2 Comments

Part 1 of a step-by-step look at preparing for a one-month solo female backpacking adventure. This series traces each phase of my travel planning process, from decision to check-in. Part 1 looks at how I chose Kyrgyzstan as my destination.

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Is Venice Dying? And other unpleasant questions

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | June 5, 2016 | 22 Comments

Recently the Thai island of Koh Tachai became the latest in a long line of popular destinations to curtail tourism: after shutting down for monsoon season it has no plans to reopen, allowing coral reefs and wildlife to recover from excessive crowds. Koh Tachai’s fight for survival isn’t unique: Beijing is considering some sort of restrictions along the Great Wall;…

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Let’s try that health thing again, shall we?

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | April 29, 2016 | 15 Comments

Warning: this is about health and eating, not about travel! For travel, go here. A year ago, when I retired from my job at the UN, I decided to take a month, go to Sri Lanka, and put my health back together. I’d abused my body for a hectic lifetime of fun and constant travel. Raised…

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My Perfect Hour in Venice

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | April 19, 2016 | 28 Comments

The shrillest sound of early morning Venice is no sound at all. As I slide across the cobblestones, my rubber soles grip the alleys, sticky but silent. The sun and the moon are invisible, in that tiny wedge of time when dawn is darkest and daytime about to announce itself. Even the motorized vaporetti boats have taken a break…

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Preparing for Venice: Is There Anything Left to Discover?

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | March 30, 2016 | 4 Comments

I’m less than 48 hours from flying to Venice and I’m not sure how I feel about it at all. My last trip to Venice was around 1985, to meet friends from Montreal a year after my move to Europe. That’s more than 30 years ago, and here’s what I remember: crowds, terrible and expensive food, cheap…

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The Unusual and Not-So-Secret Brotherhoods of France

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | February 18, 2016 | 1 Comment

She wears a leprechaun green hat, her velvet cape wrapped around her body in the cold. Around her neck hangs an olive green ribbon, holding up a bronze medallion. The operative word is olive. Meet Madame Laget, one of the few women in the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Olive Tree, a not-so-secret organization…

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What the Heck is a European Capital of Culture?

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | February 16, 2016 | 3 Comments

And what does that have to do with a bunch of cows migrating across downtown Marseille? Plenty. Because the transhumance  – the migration of herds between pastures – was staged during Marseille’s tenure as European Capital of Culture for 2013. Yes, culture, one of those terms so broad it could strangle you. It can mean the arts… painting, theater, dance, poetry,…

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Why I’m Finally Giving Up On Spelling

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | February 10, 2016 | 12 Comments

Please, keep breathing – let me explain. I’ve decided effective communication is more important than spelling. There. I’ve said it. Now before you march down to the comments section and start pelting me with pencil shavings, please hear me out. I’m a trained journalist, not a grammatical vandal, and while your toes may be curling and your hair…

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The Fascinating Story of the Indonesian Rijsttafel

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | January 18, 2016 | 9 Comments

The fascinating thing about the Indonesian rijsttafel is that it isn’t Indonesian at all: it is a Dutch invention. Indonesian food is involved, of course, but the construct is a product of colonial Holland, which ruled Indonesia – calling it the Dutch East Indies – for more than 350 years. Because yes, initially the Dutch colonists avoided the…

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2015: You Were NOT What I Expected

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | December 23, 2015 | 18 Comments

I’m standing in line waiting for my chicken. It’s two days before Christmas and in my village (as in thousands across France) we order our holiday fowls well ahead of time. I’m impatient to greet my poulet de Bresse, which the ever-modest French consider the ‘best chicken in the world’. After the requisite 20 minutes in line, the…

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