Ibn Ibn Battuta: Now on Instagram

Monday, January 27, 2014

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Ibn Ibn Battuta is now on Instagram at @ibnibnbattuta. Follow for new and previously unseen travel pics.

Morocco: 12 Essential Questions for First-Time Visitors

Monday, January 20, 2014 | Morocco

Andrew Farrand at Medersa Ben Youssef (Marrakech)

While I have been fortunate enough to travel widely, many people know that one of the countries where I've spent the most time is Morocco.

As a result, the travel-related questions that family, friends, and readers of this blog ask me most frequently are "Should I visit Morocco?" and "What should I see and do when I go to Morocco?" I'm always happy to try to answer these questions as they arise, based on my experience in the country. But it seems that listing all my main suggestions in one place might provide a useful starting point for anyone considering a Morocco trip. So without further ado...

La Charente: Escaping to 'the Iowa of France'

Sunday, January 12, 2014 | Chadurie, France

The Logis de Puygâty was just the remote and rustic paradise we were looking for.
From Christmas in Lisbon, I flew to France to spend New Year's week with Rebecca, who had found what we hoped would be the perfect year-end getaway—a countryside inn in southwestern France with nothing but miles of forest and vineyards between it and the nearest town.

We took the train from Paris to Angoulême (the aforementioned nearest town), where we stocked up on locally made goat cheeses, wines, hams, olives, and other treats at the central market before driving south.

We had been fairly certain that the inn, the Logis de Puygâty, was going to be wonderful, but we weren't prepared for it to be quite this wonderful.

After shooing out some lingering guests from a wedding the night before, the American co-owner Max and his Belgian partner Pierre welcomed us and showed us to our "house", a spacious two-story building across the courtyard from their own home. The entire property, Max said, was built in

November-December 2013 Reading List: Better Late Than Never Edition

Friday, January 10, 2014

The passing of Mandela (source: globalnews.ca)
It took me a little extra time to get through them all, but there were some very interesting reads in the last two months of 2013. A selection of my favorites:

Coming of Age in the Syrian Conflict (Alice Su, The Atlantic)
When I was studying Arabic in the Levant I remember culture clashes being plentiful for both the foreign students and the locals. Now throw in Syrian refugees, and you can start to imagine how surreal the situation is today. A powerful piece on the impacts of war. (Also not to be missed: What Do you Miss Most? Syrian Refugees Respond by Rochelle Davis and Abbie Taylor in Jadaliyya)

The Sochi Project (Rob Hornstra & Arnold van Bruggen)
The culmination of five years of research by photographer Hornstra and writer van Bruggen, The Sochi Project takes the form of a documentary film and an extensive online exposé of the hypocrisies and tragedies behind this year's winter Olympics in Russia.

Bashar Al Assad: An Intimate Profile of a Mass Murderer (Annia Ciezadlo, The New Republic)
Given all I've read about Assad in recent years, I did not expect to learn as much from this profile as I did. A fascinating look at the evolution of the dictator's twisted psychology.

Will Turkey's Erdogan Cause His Own Downfall? (Dexter Filkins, NewYorker.com)
One of the most important countries in the Middle East today is on shaky legs—here is why.

Meet the Guy Who Circumnavigated the Globe Without Taking a Plane (Chris Jones, Esquire)
Poor title; in fact, British-born Graham Hughes didn't just circumnavigate the globe, he visited every country on the planet without taking a plane. An evidently quirky character, he had some interesting reflections from his four-year odyssey, which began in Uruguay and ended in South Sudan. His biggest headache? "Visas." (Amen, brother.) Biggest lesson learned? "You can’t judge a people by the actions of their government. The friendliest country I went to, by a mile, was Iran."

Federal judge rules that TSA, FBI can detain and arrest you for carrying Arabic flashcards (Scott Kaufman, The Raw Story)
How low will America stoop?

The Lies Nelson Mandela Taught Us (Chris Roper, Mail & Guardian)
I read, and learned, much about Mandela in the wake of his passing, and found this piece among the best. In it, a veteran South African journalist tries to come to terms with the greatest "white lie" that every great leader (and a good many more) tells: you are a special people, and your country is exceptional.

Abu Zubaydah and the Banality of 'Jihadism' (Terry McDermott, Al Jazeera America)
"The world is full of dangerous goofballs, but we can't treat them all as threats to civilization."

Disciples of St John the Baptist Under Attack (Carlos Zurutuza, Al Jazeera)
On the little-known plight of the Iraq's Mandaean community.

16 People on Things They Couldn't Believe About America Until They Moved Here (Michael Koh, Thought Catalog)
It's always thought-provoking to read these reflections about one's own country: "By and large, people do not carry cash" ... "People don’t really care about the FIFA World Cup even though USA qualifies" ... "That American foreign policy is a very inaccurate reflector of public consensus" ... "Grinding. The dance form." And that's just the first one!

Auto Correct: Has the Self-Driving Car at Last Arrived? (Burkhard Bilger, New Yorker) and
The Love App: Romance in the World's Most Wired City (Lauren Collins, New Yorker)
The future is here! From the New Yorker's annual technology issue, two fascinating reports on the way our world is changing, from transport to romance.

How to Travel: Some Contrarian Advice (Ryan Holiday, Thought Catalog)
Take long walks, visit holy sites, try to avoid guidebooks? Sure. Don't check luggage or recline your seat in the airplane? Not so much. While I don't agree with all of them, they are interesting suggestions. (From earlier in the year, but I just discovered it.)

* * *

December brought some great year-end photography wrap-ups that are well worth sharing. Consider The Atlantic's "2013: The Year in Photos" (Part I, Part II, Part III) and Reuters' 2013 news photos of the year. Also worth a mention: standouts from the 2013 National Geographic Photo Contest, and the vivid "Photographing Favela Funk" series from the New York Times' Lens blog.

Final items of interest this month: maps of the most-photographed locations on Earth in 2013, courtesy of Instagram and Google, and a fun and challenging map-based game, GeoGuessr.

What's Not to Like in Lisbon?

Thursday, January 9, 2014 | Lisbon, Portugal

♥ Lisboa: The city government has embraced Lisbon's ubiquitous street art, establishing a division to manage and promote it.
After several months of research and debate back in the fall, my mom, sister Maggie, and I spent Christmas week together in Lisbon, a city I had visited before (back in 2009, when living in nearby Morocco), but that I was happy to explore further.

Flight delays on their end gave me time to rediscover Lisbon on my own, starting with our home base for the week, a lovely two-story apartment with views over a good part of downtown and the Alfama district, with its picturesque Moorish castle.

The plentiful graffiti and iconic trolleys that give Lisbon its charm were still all around. On my first night, I also came across a boisterous Christmas market in a downtown square, where I loaded up on grilled choriço sausages, local codfish dishes, and hot mulled wine (fortified with the syrupy local cherry liqueur ginja). Back at the market on my second night as well, I met a young Canadian who

2013: A Year of Exploring the Arts

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Street musicians, le Marais, Paris (November 2013)
Last year I set a New Year's resolution, something I don't often bother to do. To reconnect with my creative side, I resolved to spend more time in 2013 producing and enjoying art.

Over the course of the year, I never found as much time as I had hoped to play at painting or collage, though I did manage to spend many hours practicing my photography, and came away with some images of which I'm proud.

I was more successful in seeking out creative visual inspiration.

Within the first few days of the year, I made it to the Met in New York to finally explore their revamped Islamic Art wing (which, while nice, doesn't hold a candle to the British Museum's Islamic collection), and to DC's Hirshhorn for the "Ai WeiWei: According to What?" exhibit, which reinforced