Christmas Rendez-Vous: Exploring the Underground and Other Sides of Paris

Thursday, January 29, 2015 | Paris, France (map)

Winter wedding in Paris, a city of old world charm.
Winter just isn't the time to go to Paris.

That was my first conclusion from the Christmas season, when I rendez-voused with my mom and sister for a week in the French capital, followed by a few days there on my own. Paris, so verdant and effervescent when I last visited in the spring, is a chilly, rainy drag of a city in late December. Sure, it's still Paris, but with short and dreary days, it's hardly at its best.

Good weather or bad, our little family had a nice time catching up, as we had the year before in Lisbon. (At least I did, though I can't vouch that my mother and Maggie shared the sentiment!) Our Christmas meetup in Europe—neutral ground between our respective homes of Algiers, Baltimore, and Boston—is fast becoming an annual tradition, as the only time of year when we are all together.

Places to Go: Constantine, Algeria

Thursday, January 22, 2015 | Constantine, Algeria (map)

A 1920s footbridge spans the Rhumel River gorge, connecting Constantine's two halves.
In addition to publishing their annual "52 Places to Go" list every January, each month the New York Times Travel section solicits and publishes readers' "Places to Go" recommendations.

This month I decided to toss my hat in the ring with what I hoped was a unique and timely suggestion: Constantine, the unique and timeless capital of Algeria's east, which I've been lucky enough to visit several times. In my writeup, I packed as much color as I could within the strict 100-word limit, and also submitted three photos:
Constantine clings to the cliffs above Algeria's own grand canyon – the Rhumel River gorge, which plunges hundreds of feet below the city's dozen historic suspension bridges. Though little known abroad, Algeria's third largest city is home to lavish Ottoman palaces, a Le Corbusier-designed university, and ornate hotels from the French colonial era. Timgad, Algeria's most impressive Roman ruin, is just down the road. Constantine's already vibrant cultural scene—the peak of which is an annual summer jazz festival—is getting a boost this year, as the city has been named 2015's "Capital of Arab Culture". Special events are planned year-round.

Arrows from the Bow of Exile

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"You shall leave everything you love most: this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste of others' bread, how salty it is, and know how hard a path it is for one who goes ascending and descending others' stairs."
Background photo by author, in Casbah of Algiers.
Life in North Africa can feel far from home and its many comforts. On the tough days—of which there are many—I sometimes recall this quote I came across last year from Paradiso, the third volume of Dante's Divine Comedy. Somehow, I draw strength from the words, perhaps because they are a reminder that the daily difficulties of life abroad are inevitable, and have always been so.

Are We All Charlie Hebdo?

Thursday, January 8, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"Love: Stronger than hate." (Source: charliehebdo.fr)
Yesterday, when the news broke of an attack by masked gunmen on the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the Internet—that worldwide repository of timeless wisdom and oh-so-well-thought-out status updates—was soon plastered with the #WeAreAllCharlie hashtag and its many variations (#IAmCharlie, #JeSuisCharlie, #NousSommesCharlie, etc).

When I saw it, I instantly thought back to Le Monde's famous September 12, 2001 editorial "Nous sommes tous des américains". Many also shared the hashtag out of solidarity with the victims. But statements that some posted alongside the hashtag imbued those simple words with wildly differing meanings: an impassioned defense of free speech, a battle cry for embattled secular values, a simple statement against violence, a denunciation of Islamist terrorism, a cry of French national pride... The reasons people shared those words were infinite.

I realized this a few hours later, as I watched the backlash start. (If you don't live in

"When In Doubt, Go Out": Team Algeria Does Marseille

Saturday, January 3, 2015 | Marseille, France (map)

A partial group shot of the weekend's ever-changing cast of characters, at Chez Etienne pizzeria.
"When in doubt, go out" is a maxim I long ago learned to follow on those nights when a friend calls to invite me out but I'm feeling 50-50 about it. Almost every time, those somehow end up being the quirky, epic, unexpectedly memorable nights out.

In recent years, I've practiced applying that maxim to larger decisions. I now try to beat back my own inner wimp when weighing new jobs, international moves, or the possibility of hopping on airplanes for whirlwind last-minute trips. If you're on the fence, go.

Back in November, a few of my closest Algerian friends were dogging me to join them for a long weekend in Marseille. I had way too much work to do here in

Out with the Old, in with the New

Monday, December 29, 2014

It's been a long time since IbnIbnBattuta.com got a facelift, but that day has come. The site has a new look for the new year, and I hope you will agree that it's a big improvement.

Besides an updated header, there are refreshed design elements and content, like a revised "About" page and new "My Travels" page. I still have some kinks to work out, but feedback is always welcome!

All of my stories and your comments from the last decade (and counting) are still here. And now that this burst of coding and design work are behind me, fear not: blogging will resume again in due haste.

Thank you for reading, and Happy New Year.

— Andrew

Rolleicord Photos: The Haïk and the Revolution

Thursday, November 20, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Some 50 participants, including women and men, processed down the main street of downtown Algiers.
On November 1, Algerians celebrated the 60th anniversary of the start of their war for independence, and here in Algiers local artists collective "Belaredj" organized a street performance to celebrate the haïk, the traditional women's dress of Algeria.

I was pleased to spend the last day of my 20s tagging along and snapping pictures of the event with my Rolleicord. And, although I still can't find anywhere to develop the film here in Algiers, I just found a chance to do so on a long weekend in Marseille.

As I expected, the results were decent but not spectacular. (And certainly not as strong as those from the last event.) The group had been marching too quickly for me to take proper, well focused shots with my antique camera, whose knobs require significant fiddling to take sharp portraits.

But for all the fumbling it requires, the Rolleicord has its upsides. It attracted plenty of attention from the participants, making it the perfect tool for soliciting portraits. I walked past one woman in haïk just as she was telling a seedy male passerby that no, under no circumstances would she open up her haik and show him her face for a quick photo. But as soon as I passed with my camera, she

Come With Me To The Casbah

Monday, November 10, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"Typiquement algérois": The Casbah is the heart and soul of the Algerian capital's traditional culture.
Back in my mom's basement in Baltimore, somewhere in a crate full of foreign coins, postcards, and other odd trinkets that I have accumulated in my travels, there is also a magazine article, its left edge ragged where I tore it from an issue of Smithsonian back in 2007. Called "Save the Casbah", the article is an ode to the famed Casbah of Algiers—and to the community activists, historians, preservationists, and local residents who were then, and are still today, trying to keep the iconic hillside settlement from crumbling into the sea below.

Out of fascination with this part of the world, I saved the article years ago, long before I ever visited Algiers. But living here has given me many chances to explore the Casbah firsthand and get to know its many twists and turns, both physical and imagined.