We spent 5 days traveling around a small piece of the 1500 square kilometers that make up the Maasai Mara National Reserve in the Rift Valley Province of southwestern Kenya. Here are some of our take-aways from a great trip.
Travelling locally, for me ... but maybe not for you ...
Outdoor food markets are, by and large, far beyond being merely markets of food; rather they are cinema and opera all rolled into one. Sellers ladle out heaping bowls of words in rhythm to the bagging of their wares. Sonorous voices start low and reach a crescendo as the price per kilo flows through the market in bass tones. Prices and produce, produce and prices. Each of the salesmen smiles a rich, lippy smile as his hands scoop piles of peppers or beans or manhandle a cabbage and thrust all meatily into a waiting sack.
Thus it is on any given day in the countless street markets of Istanbul. Sundays will find the market in a neighbourhood like Koşuyolu, while Mondays may have delivered it five kilometers away to Bağlarbaşı. Nevertheless, they maintain the same flavour, the same odours, the same calls, the same changing seasonal colours. From soon after dawn when the canvas canopies are slung from roof to roof and pole to pole, until dusk when the wooden tables are piled against the walls and the debris of greenery lies strewn in their place, the torrent of voices rolls through the streets. It is a cacophony of joy.
Ritually the day begins with truckloads of fruit and vegetables from around Turkey lumbering through the streets to the neighbourhood markets. Canvasses are erected, lamps are attached to the nearest electrical street wires, friendly cajoling and dickering soon begins. Soon, the sellers are shining their apples and rinsing their produce, stacking it neatly on the tables in front of them from the boxes piled massively behind. There seems to be no end to the cornucopia nor to the care which is bestowed upon it by the moustachioed men who await the crowds of women who will buy goods from the most inviting source.
Men on one side shouting "auntie" or "big sister" followed by the price drawn out for the benefit of all. Crowds of women slowly moving down the street between the tables, slightly hunched under the weight of the plastic bags already filled with leeks, carrots, peppers, still looking for five or ten kilos of juicy oranges or perhaps a couple of heads of lettuce if the price is right.
In spite of the fearsome shouts intoned again and again, politeness holds sway between the sellers. Unhesitatingly, one seller will make change for his neighbour and will know that any debt will be cleared within minutes. To break potential boredom, sometimes a lemon will fly from one table to another, barely missing its seemingly intended mark. Perhaps an apple will be lobbed (never sizzled) in return, accompanied by laughter from the observing men. The women will notice without gazing and proceed unsmilingly with an audible "tsk, tsk". Boys all, no matter what age.
The serious business of selling draws to a close as dusk approaches. Once again, trucks move in to take away any remnants of the day's work. There is little to be found either in the boxes or on the tables. The sounds fade until night settles in and garbage trucks rumble through the area, picking up and cleaning the memories of the streets.
Ljubljana, a capital city with about 300,000 people including 60,000 students. Youthful, entrepreneurial and with a hidden edge hearkening back to Tito's time. For example, just outside the old city is a wealth of graffiti and a squatters' area.
Ljubljana has a thriving food culture. Lunch is the big meal of the day, as social as the evening café and bar life. Sidewalks are abuzz day and night with lively food, drink and conversation. Funkiest café was Ziferblat: giant living rooms attached to the open kitchen at the entrance. Board games, wifi, quiet and social areas, you pay by time spent and not by what you consume. Make your own espresso, help yourself to cookies and snacks, based on the original idea in Moscow - post-socialist? Markets vary each day in the city centre - farmers, organic, depending on the day. There is even an unpasteurised milk vending machine - 1 euro for 1 litre.
An hour and a half bus ride northwest of Ljubljana lie Bled and the Alps. Bled is touristy but a hike up to, through and back from Vintgar Gorge gave me the shot of nature I needed. Farmland up to the gorge, pure runoff from the alps in the gorge and wooded areas on the way back to Bled. Bled is a spa favoured by royalty and Tito himself. Lots of opportunities for swimming.
An hour and a half south west of Ljubljana lie fertile valleys perfect for viniculture, aka great wine. The Vipava valley around Ajdovščina, Goce and Slap hosts some fierce "Bora" winds as two climatic regions crash into each other. People put rocks on their tile roofs to keep them from blowing away in gusts known to reach 300 kph. With these winds, the vineyards themselves benefit from never having dew or frost. Wine growing is still family-centred and very much a boutique industry. There is pride in their wines - and justly so. Along with merlot, muscat and the like, vintners grow two indigenous grapes: Zelen or "green" named after the striking colour of the vine's leaves, and Pinela. Both make clear, fresh and smooth whites and roses. The cellars are under the homes and people say there is more room underground than above. The cellars I visited ranged from 350 years old to 700 years old. Perfect for storing ... and tasting ... local vintages. Accompanied by local cheeses, meats and produce made by the families themselves. See "tips and contacts" for more details.