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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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Of Discos and Serenos in Madrid

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | April 21, 2015 | 24 Comments

It started with the keys. Clanking, jiggling, each heavy skeleton banging against a clutch of loose weighty metal. Then clap, clap clap. We clapped our hands, at first lightly, then with the growing impatience of youth. We could hear the keys in the distance. He couldn’t be far. It was somewhere between Saturday night and Sunday…

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Lost in a Minefield in Mozambique

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | April 6, 2015 | 2 Comments

Roberto slammed on the brakes, pushing the Land Rover into a skid. I grabbed the safety bar and my thoughts drifted to the bright orange shoes I had begged my mother to buy me when I turned seven. My mother, so worried about my Africa trip, my mother, so clearly right about its dangers. “We’re lost,” the park ranger whispered, hysteria edging into…

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Great Zimbabwe: An Accidental Sunrise

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | March 29, 2015 | 5 Comments

I’m notorious for missing the sights. I’m the kind of traveler who manages to visit Niagara without seeing the Falls or Paris without climbing the Eiffel Tower. Sometimes it’s on purpose, because popular attractions can be excessively packaged, reduced to their lowest common denominator and devoid of discovery or excitement. At other times I simply get…

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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. Some were thin bands, others majestic constructs jutting into the air, ready to poke out an eye with the slightest gesture. She was northern European, her pale hair…

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Congo Lime Green

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | March 23, 2015 | 4 Comments

Not too long ago I was invited to run a one-week journalism workshop in Brazzaville, the ‘other’ Congo, the one Mobutu didn’t run into the ground. I remember a sea of expectant faces, everyone utterly dressed up as is often the case in more formal settings across Africa. “It’s a sign of respect,” my Nigerian friend…

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Albania Tourism: Uncovering the World’s (Once) Most Isolated Country

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | March 16, 2015 | 8 Comments

He was scruffy, his beard matted and his shoelaces undone. He was drunk or stoned, or both. “Foreigners bad! Foreigners go home!” Evening life had started spilling onto the sidewalks of Blokku, the tony quarter in which Tirana’s elite once lived. Today it is home to chic cafés, delicious restaurants and well-stocked shops. As he spotted us – two…

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A Cut Above: The Ongoing Tradition of FGM

By Leyla Giray Alyanak | February 7, 2015 | 8 Comments

It is a sunny day, hot even in December as Christmas nears in a rural village in Kenya, up somewhere near the borders of Uganda and what is now South Sudan. There is a festive spirit and the young girls are gathered and song and dance reverberate across the hills of West Pokot, bracing for…

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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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