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October – Kenya

We flew to Nairobi on the 1st of October from Cairo, and stayed a couple of nights in a banda at Upper Hill Campsite in a suburb of Nairobi (ironically not Upper Hill, since they moved from there).

[banda pic to come when I can get power for my camera!]

While there, we signed up for a 4 day safari with Big Time Safaris which would take us to the Masai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park. The safari wasn’t cheap, but we bargained it down to $100 per day (still well over our budget!) which is not too bad since the Kenya Wildlife Service charges foreigners $60 a day to visit its top rated parks and the safari includes food, transport and accommodation.

We saw an incredible number of animals at both parks.

At the Masai Mara we saw: cheetahs, antelopes, Jackson gazelles, lions, elephants, giraffes, zebra, wildebeest, hippos, crocodiles, gnus, warthogs, eagles, hyenas, jackals, maribu storks and no doubt about 100 other species that I didn’t identify or have forgotten already.


Lions

Wildebeest Buffalo

Wabs standing either side of the Kenya-Tanzania border in the Masai Mara

Lake Nakuru was full of flamingos – it’s a soda lake which a large (2 million) population of flamingos migrates to every year. We also saw white rhinos and baboons, in addition to some species which we’d already seen at the Masai Mara.

We had our safari drop us off at Nakuru town, where we stayed a couple of days, before going to Kisumu (3rd largest town in Kenya) for two nights, then getting the bus and ferry to Rusinga Island where we started our two week volunteering stint jsut over a week ago. We’re being teaching assistants at a nursery school in the mornings and working at a permaculture demonstration project in the afternoon, which is all fun, if easy work, and we’re experiencing genuine rural developing country life – ie, no electricity or running water, which is trying our paitence somewhat! Only 5 days to go though!

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Cooking Alaturka in Istanbul

One of the (many) things I’m keen to do on this sabbatical is to learn how to cook traditional dishes from various cuisines, be it from a family’s keeper-of-recipes, or a professionally-run cooking class.

While in Istanbul, Babs and I had the opportunity to sign up with Cooking Alaturka , a €60 4-hour cooking class located right by the Blue Mosque run by Cordon Bleu alum and experienced kitchen hand and hotel manager and manager, Dutch-born Eveline Zoutendijk.

The proposition: Make a 5-course Turkish meal, then sit down together with your classsmates to eat it. Practice at home with your take-home recipe booklet. Not to mention, get to play with some badass blades. Bonus! (Melf this photo’s for you!)

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Our merry little crew of 8 on this particular day included a 30something couple from Kent, England; a couple of Americans who work for the US governement processing refugee paperwork (who sounded like they had been to every exotic location we’d ever been to or were planning to go to), and a retired couple from Florida who regaled us with tales of how their son and daughter in law took 2 1/2 years to sail around the world. Babs and I feel pretty tame by comparison!

Right. Cay and chitchat done for now. On go the aprons, up go the sleeves.

I’ll be recapping the highlights of the class, but won’t share the details on the recipes here, as they are not mine to share. Happy to practise what I learned and feed you the results if you’ll lend me access to your kitchen and don’t mind being a gourmet guinea pig, though!

Imam Bayildi: The Imam Fainted

This fabled Turkish dish — made from eggplant, tomatoes, onions, herbs and spices — got its name from its effect on a certain cleric. Possibly from how amazing it tastes, possibly from seeing how much olive oil goes into making it.

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Eveline shows the class how to core and peel tomatoes (lookit how RED they are!). Classmate Simon puts some muscle into machete-ing the mint.

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Feyzi, Eveline’s talented and tireless chef, gives Babs a lesson in putting the squeeze on sliced onions, then dollops in tomato paste and red pepper paste. The latter is made in villages all over Turkey, by cooking red peppers then sun-drying them to concentrate the flavour. I’ll have to figure out where to buy this in whatever city we end up living in next.

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Next, we make eggplant boats, stuff them silly, lay them in a steaming pan, and watch Feyzi lay on the olive oil…and then some, and then some. A few classmates start to feel faint…

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One of the rare moments Babs bothers to photograph his food.

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Etli Yaprak Dolmasi: Grape Leaves Stuffed with Meat and Rice

I’ve never been a fan of dolmas until right now. I’ve wanted to like them, but there’s something about the taste that never went down well. It was just too…overpoweringly…green? Turns out, grape leaves are usually sold in brine, and the more usual way to eat them is cold. This particular dish washes the leaves and cooks them, which may explain the much mellower flavour of the leaf.

We sort the leaves by size, and fashion a stuffing of minced beef, lamb, rice, tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs.

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Eveline shows us how to roll a dolma, which I turn out to be idiotically slow at. Those of you used to rolling ciggies are likely to do better. Apparently if you are a guest in a Turkish home, the smaller the dolmas, the more honour your host is showing you, since they went through all that extra faff to make them that dainty. I can just see Babs and myself protesting “Please please we’re all friends here! No need for such ceremony! Bigger is fine!”

We start a production line. Many hands make light work.

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Boil in stock, then serve with yoghurt on the side. Dolmalicious.

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Mantarli Sac Boregi: Anatolian Flatbread with Mushrooms and Herbs

The key to these tasty mushroom packets is the pillow casing, calledyufka. They remind me of popiah (Chinese spring roll) skin, but with more elasticity. Cut the yufka down to size, lay on the pre-pan-fried mushrooms and herbs, fold, and lightly pan-fry the packet on all sides. Restaurants are more likely to deep fry these, resulting in something more akin to samosas .

Other popular fillings among the locals include spinach or cheese. I expect if I get around to making these at home, I’ll be making them with shrooms AND spinach AND cheese.

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Yayla Corbasi: Meadow Soup

This hot yoghurt and mint soup turned out to be a great combination of refreshment (from the lightness of the yoghurt and mint and lemon) and comfort (from the meat stock). I’m looking forward to making more yoghurt-based soups at home, or maybe using them as a substitute for cream.

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Sekerpare: Syrupy Semolina Sponge Cakes with Hazelnuts

Another production line exercise in rolling out cookie-dough balls, plonking in the hazelnuts and brushing on the egg-white glaze before they go into the oven.

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My heart stops momentarily as Eveline drowns the baked cakes in sugar syrup. They are then left to sit in the syrup and soak it all in — at commecial bakeries possibly for a day or 2. I give my heart a few good thumps to jumpstart it.

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Dust with powdered pistachio and dessicated coconut. Thankfully, these tasted lighter than I thought they were going to. For all my protesting I scarf it all down, while some others at the table sensibly stop at 1.

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IMG 3247After lunch, we peruse Eveline’s little shop shelf, which offers items such as spices, home-made jam (right), ornate tea trays and even the lovely giant curved knife shown above. Try explaining that one to airport security.

The retired American couple pick up a tea tray, and Babs and I pick up a copy of Tales from the Expat Harem , a book chronicling the adventures and insights of 32 expat women from 4 continents now living in Turkey as archeologists, volunteers, artists and entrepreneurs etc.

Eveline’s chapter “The Painting or the Boy” is an engaging few pages that punch through rose-tinted glasses and pinch at the raw nerves of running a business in a foreign land and culture, and grappling with managing an employee with strong similarities in work ethic and conviction, but competely opposite beliefs. I look forward to reading the other stories, and the fruition of Eveline’s memoirs which she’s currently writing.

As for the class, it was a very enjoyable 4 hours of getting our hands saucy and then eating our handiwork. At a class size of 8, we just about fit into the teaching kitchen, so I’m not sure how well a full class size of 10 would navigate the space. It might be ok, if you’re closer to the size of the dolmas of a very hospitable Turkish host.

Eveline also runs afternoon classes than end with dinner. If you want to test her culinary credentials before signing up for the class, or just want to sample her work without learning how to cook it, her restaurant is open for lunch, and by appointment for dinner.

Cooking Alaturka
Akbiyik Caddesi 72A
Sultanahmet, Istanbul
+90 212 458 59 19

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Prologue: The iconic symbol of the birth of Rome involves feeding — mythological founders Romulus and Remus were raised by wolves, literally. Romulus later kills his twin brother to consolidate his dominion over the city.

Just before we left Andalucia, we bought a tin of sardines, a tin of scallops and a tin of razor clams. They were to be opened during emergenices only.

We opened the first tin in Rome.

We were placed in a B&B room near Rome Termini train station, different from the one we booked. This one had a bathroom you could barely turn around in, and a giant hole in the wall where the A/C vent was supposed to be. Cue hot air and noise from the street all night.

The only things we could see available for the catered breakfast were packets of croissants, which had a 2011 expiry date. I really don’t want to know what the pastry was inundated with to give that kind of shelf life.

We knew Rome was going to be expensive, but was this really all that €50 a night was going to get us?

Perhaps not.

The next morning, the Chinese lady at front desk, upon realising that I spoke Mandarin (she had no English and I had no Italian) started ranting about how our inkeeper was “bullying” us. Apparently our original room had a damaged door — which by this morning had been fixed — so we should really get on the innkeeper’s case and demand to be moved to our original room, instead of putting up with the tiny room that her B&B didn’t even deign to rent out, but rather used only for staff to rest in during the day.

And so, in the heart of the Roman empire, counsel from the Chinese empire got us into the room we originally booked. Which, as it turns out, sleeps 3 people more than comfortably, and a kitchen full of toast, sausages, cheese, preserves and drinks for breakfast.

This happening upon our arrival in Rome sadly soured my view of the eternal city for our remaining time there. I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that there was always a little something that the Romans were holding out on us. A little more on the plate. A little more information. Heck, in Julius Caesar’s case, a little dagger behind the cloak.

In the case of Trattoria Da Gino, a well known establishment next to the Parlianment Building frequented by politicians and journalists, it was the the minestrone I actually ordered (ie, with pasta, rather than rice). Otherwise, the lamb and osso bucco were decent bite-for-buck.

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And, taking the cake, the waiter at L’Angoletto di Musei a few streets from the Vatican didn’t bother to hint at what I was getting when I ordered “Angelo’s special pasta”. Ok, so Babs and I laughed ourselves silly once I got past the initial shock. But it goes to show.

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What probably saved my blood from boiling over (figuratively and literally, given the sweltering 35 deg C afternoon heat) was Rome’s gelaterias. San Crispino is the hailed by the mainstream media as the Don of the genre in town, but my favourite (and the only real rave I have for Rome in this post) was Gelateria del Teatro, a tiny but rocketing up-and-comer with a mind-blowing watermelon granita. That unmistakeable chilled-ripe-watermelon scent of chlorophyll with a just a tinge of nectar is what I imagine rain in heaven will smell like. Stefano and Silvia, the husband-and-wife team that run the joint, use only natural and seasonal ingredients, sometimes hauled in by Stefano himself from the market on bicycle. All gelato is made in small batches onsite, and you won’t get any hassle if you poke your head in the back to see what’s in progress.

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Above: Babs and I both go for grapefruit sorbet at San Crispino, I balance it out with melon while Babs tarts it up further with raspberry; A cup of watermelon heaven from Gelateria del Teatro

Right now, that watermelon granita might the only reason I would go back to Rome. Otherwise, it just felt like the city was using its ancient and religious sites to milk visitors, without much ongoing investment into striving to provide value for money or excellence in hospitality. Resting on its laurels, as it were.

Trattoria Da Gino
Vicolo Rosini 4
Rome 00186, Italy
+39 06 6873434

L’Angoletto ai Musei
Via Leone IV, 2A
Rome 00192, Italy
+39 06 39723187

Il Gelato de San Crispino
Via Panetteria 42
Rome Italy

Gelateria del Teatro
Via di San Simone 70
Rome 00186, Italy
+39 06 45474880

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By Babs

Just a quick update – we reached Dubrovnik on Wednesday morning after a busy week of travelling, and are really enjoying it here! Admittedly on the basis of just two days in the country, I’d recommend anyone to visit Croatia and holiday here – good, inexpensive food, a beautiful coastline and city, the Adriatic is amazingly clean and clear and lovely for swimming in and overall it’s very relaxing here.

We left the farm at Orgiva a week ago on Tuesday, exactly three weeks after we arrived, and got a bus to Granada, from where we took a train to Barcelona, the first of several overnighters of the week. The Spanish train was comfortable though the cheapest tickets were for bunks in four berth single sex compartments. We stayed a night in Barcelona, ate some good tapas (lots of pulpo/octopus) and read by the beach. We skipped sightseeing as we’d both visited the more famous landmarks before and only had a day to spend in the city.

From there, we took a 20 hour overnight ferry (seats but no bunks this time!) to Civitavecchia, Italy then a train to Rome. We stayed in Rome for three nights and saw a few of the obvious things to see in Rome – the Colosseum, the Forum and the Vatican as well as too many other ancient monuments to list here! It seems you can’t walk anywhere in central Rome without bumping into either a two thousand year old monument or a renaissance building designed by Michelangelo. The sights were very impressive, but unfortunately we were put off by the extremely touristy feel of central Rome – it was very hard to find any shops, cafes or restaurants that weren’t trying to rip you off.

We spent a day in Bari next, having arrived on an overnight train from Rome, and took an overnight ferry that night to Dubrovnik. Not spending the night in Bari was a bit of a shame, because it turned out to be a really nice town. I had been assuming that it was just a port town but it had all the nice restaurants and pleasant Italian feeling that I’d been missing in Rome! We also discovered that travelling two nights in a row without anywhere to shower in the middle of summer tends to make one quite grouchy 🙂

Anyway, now we’re happy to be in Dubrovnik, and might even stay another night here!

Wen and Amir at the Sistine Chapel
Wabs looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

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We visited Chris and Saskia who live in Heerlen, NL last weekend. Had a great time exploring Hasselt in Belgium where Chris picked us up from the station and where we found the yellow duckie, lunching in Maastricht, BBQing Saturday evening and riding in Saskia’s horse drawn carriage on Sunday morning. We spent all our spare time having fun playing with Saskia’s six (it used to be more!) Tonkinese cats.

Photos from the Netherlands

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This is a belated “thank-you so very much” to the generous souls who kept us well fed in last days of Babs and me winding down our London kitchen. As you can see from the photos, we were well taken care of!

Thanks to Dom & Jas, for hosting quite possibly the classiest BBQ I’ve been to ever (down to the home-and-hand-made chocolate truffles… Jas you need to share your recipe here please!). Thanks to EJ, for doing the early morning schlep to Billingsgate to get obscenely fresh prawns and sardines.

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Thanks to Frank and Em, for keeping it real, sharing your engagement brownie with us, as well as all your wisdom on South America (we’ll be harassing from the road closer to the time). Not to mention a very fierce game of Pictionary!

And finally thanks to my mum-in-law, whose lunchbox-for-2 was the absolute last (and much needed) meal in our flat, eaten on the floor of our empty living room just before we handed over the keys and headed out with our backpacks. I’ll be needing more briyani practice sessions in India in December…

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Here’s to breaking bread together again somewhere sooner rather than later.

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Friends,

You will have heard about our hare-brained scheme to various degrees, and while we have had many sceptical moments, here we are — our last day in London.

On Wednesday morning we start our 12 month (maybe 18?) honeymoon + sabbatical by getting on a bus to Bruge, and from there head slowly eastwards with as few flights as possible until we wind our way back around again.

Follow us on Twitter: worldwidewabs

If you need to reach us, email is best.
If it’s urgent, use these numbers below – we’ll be forwarding them to our local SIM cards wherever we end up.

Amir: +44 70 1776 9969
Wen: +44 70 1785 2208

Take care of each other while we’re gone – looking forward to catching up with you again soon!

Wen & Babs

P.S. If this is the first you’ve heard of any of this, it probably means we’re long overdue for a catch up on the road sometime somewhere.


Our life in boxes …

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