Susan Sontag’s words “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list” could potentially be one of my favourite quotes ever, speaking a truth close to my heart. I start every year with dreams of far-flung destination I may get the chance to see and the long-haul flights I will get to enjoy. Yes, I am possibly one of the rare few who actually do enjoy long-haul flights.
I started 2016 dreaming of new destinations but never really thought I’d get to visit so many new places, and some old ones I’d been to before. As I dream of new destinations for 2017, check out the highlights of my year of travel.
A Magical Evening in Kigali, Rwanda
Rwanda had been on my radar for a while so when the opportunity to travel work came knocking I was overjoyed. While the first few days were spent working at a conference, we tried to make the most of the evenings. Following the conference, I stayed on for two more days which is when I had the time to explore the city.
We got to dine at the highly recommended Repub Lounge which was not only cosy but also served delicious affordable food – Ugali with goat stew is a must. Another great dining spot was the down-to-earth Lalibela where we got to enjoy a taste of Ethiopia.
As for sightseeing, of course, we had to visit the Genocide Memorial documenting the country’s darkest 100 days in 1994 and the atrocities committed.
The somber visit served not only as a stark reminder of the West’s indifference but also of the long way Rwanda has come in a little over two decades becoming one of the most progressive and dynamic states in Africa.
What topped this visit for me was the day spent wandering around on a walking tour of Nyamirambo, the district which was originally home to the city’s Muslim population and now a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. Our walk started at the Women’s Centre (NWC) which was launched in 2007, when 18 women who came together to support each other, discussing issues like health, family, education and unemployment. It has since expanded to include a sewing cooperative and provides practical training and skills for disadvantaged women.
I was back at Nyamirambo only hours later with a work colleague and Friday, a young Rwandan broadcaster who worked with us during the conference and offered to take us out on my final night. “You have to go back to Nyamirambo at night,” he said, “That’s the part of the city that never sleeps.)
My colleague and I kicked off the evening at Inema Arts Center – a two storey gallery dedicated to work by Rwandan artists, which comes with a beautiful garden, home to a few sculptures, and a bar which hosts happy hour on Thursdays. Tipsy on cocktails, good music and great Kigali vibe, we met up with Friday and opted to commute like the locals and take a minibus to Nyamirambo. Of course, stomachs grumbling by now, we had to try street food – Indian inspired chapatis and more Ugali served with goat meat and tripe soup.
I had a flight to catch in a few hours time but not before I took a motor ride along the rolling hills of Kigali – high on life and on the magical Kigali night vibe, it was one of the most fun travel experiences ever, and one that was the most apt finale to a great time in Kigali.
Leap of Faith Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
I was in Victoria Falls in 2011, and one disappointment I had was that I didn’t have the chance to bungee jump over the Zambezi. I knew I would come back one day, but I never thought it would be in 2016. Following a two-day conference in Dubai, two colleagues and I decided to take a day-trip just to see the falls – as one does!
Despite quite a rough morning, I knew this time around I couldn’t pass on the jump I had been waiting for all this time, so off we went straight from the airport to the Zambian border. For a few seconds walking across the bridge, courted by a range of Zambian vendors being overly-friendly, I did re-consider my decision to haul myself off a bridge, wondering if they were being nice to a woman during the final few minutes of her life.
Once on the platform though, I could feel the rush. Heeding the guides’ warning not to look down for too long, I took a leap of faith, and I am so glad I did. There are no words to describe the euphoria you feel hanging at the end of a rope taking in the magnificence that is Victoria Falls.
Conscious of our 6pm return flight, we crossed the border back to Zimbabwe after to visit the Falls. Although I had been there before, the feeling of setting eyes on Victoria Falls never gets old. Taking in the universe’s grandeur, as the water roars down below and the steam evaporates above, catching sight of a hundred rainbows, it makes your heart sing. As it was the rainy season, by the end of our walk we were absolutely drenched (as was my iPhone which proved fatal to its warranty!) but euphoric.
Back in Harare, we had the perfect end to a perfect day – dinner at the Fishmonger Restaurant, one of the best dining spots in town. The whole meal was a lavish affair, but the pièce de résistance had to be the fried calamari – exported all the way from Argentina. It was so good we had to order another portion to share. As an Istanbullian spoiled by seafood most of her life, trust me when I say it was probably one of the best calamari I have ever had! Who would have thought?
Glitz and Glam in Dubai, UAE
Dubai has always been on my list, so a three-day getaway at the end of two days’ work in the city was just the ticket! The other half joined me on day 2 and we decided to live it up in a Luxury Club room at Sofitel Jumeirah Beach.
While the glitz and glam of Dubai may not appeal to some, for me it was an absolute gem of a destination. As we were right on the beach and the sea was ridiculously warm, B. not only did we have quite a few dining options right on our doorstep but we also rented a car and explored the city in the evening which is when it really comes alive once the heat of the day starts waning.
The Dubai City is the epitome of ‘go big or go home’ – from the glitzy, ginormous malls you will most probably get lost in to the super highway,Sheikh Zayed Road, that cuts across the city.
My highlight was spending a magical evening, visiting the souks by the Dubai Mall, then catching the final Dubai Fountains show of the night – watching jets of water sway and dance to the rhythm of Middle Eastern songs – before sitting down for a late dinner at Siraj, enjoying delicious Emirati cuisine and candle lights.
The only regret I have is not to have stayed just a couple of day longer to allow us to spend a night in the desert – something I hope to put to right soon.
Another Leap of Faith and Family Fun Antalya, Turkey
Being Turkish, I certainly don’t consider Antalya a far-flung destination; what made this summer’s holiday was not just the grandiose Alva Donna where we stayed, but the fact that we had almost our whole family with us which made it all the more fun.
Generally Hubby and I spend summer holidays with my mum and aunties, and this year, after many years of planning, plotting and postponing, against all odds, we finally had my in-laws visit for the first time. Against all odds, I say, because for a while it was touch and go what with the explosions in Istanbul and the coup attempt in July. Yet, finally in August, my mother-in-law, my sister- and brother-in-law and their children all made it to Antalya for a week of fun in the sun.
Lazy days spent on the beach and in water for me is what sums up a good summer holiday home – as I have seen most of the cultural sites and beauty spots, there is very little under the sun (pun intended!) for me to see in Antalya, and Hubby and his family are never that keen on sightseeing. The most adventurous they got was to go on a boat tour and admire the sea from afar.
My niece, Mayowa, on the other hand, is an exception. Like me, she is an adrenaline junkie so when we found out about paragliding at Tahtali Mountains – a quick 20min bus ride away, we just had to do it. With Hubby as accomplice, we woke up early one morning and made the quick journey to the adjacent cove Tekirova from where we were taken to the mountain, up the cable car to the top, and got changed into our gear.
Alas, fun had to be postponed when the winds changed and we had to lounge around for two hours waiting for the right winds. Trust me, 38 degrees Celsius in padded overalls is not it! Finally around 1pm Mayowa took off, and a good hour later I managed. 45min glide back to sea level was fun were it not for a spot of altitude sickness for me. Yet, I had to experience the acrobatics despite the risk of getting sick!
What was the ultimate treat after the smoothest landing ever was a bowl of homemade okra soup Mayowa’s pilot Richard had ordered from a nearby diner. It hit the spot! After an eventful morning, incidentally on the fifth anniversary of our Facebook friendship, we made it back to the hotel to show off our pictures and videos to the family who thought us mad for hauling ourselves “off a cliff”. Not just any cliff, I tell you, at an altitude of 7760 feet, the world’s highest flying paragliding spot.
Cool Vibes in Accra, Ghana
Accra was the last destination of 2016. Opting for a Turkish Airlines flight, after 11 hours up in the air, by the time we landed on the eve of the elections, all I wanted was to hit the sack. And hit the sack I did, in style, at Kempinski Gold Coast City Accra, the first hotel from the luxury brand in West Africa.
Having stayed in Kempinski in Europe before, I was keen to find out if an African property lived up to the brand’s high standards and the clientele’s higher expectations, and during my four-day stay I was pleased it did, from the quality of service to the cheerfulness of the staff. The bigger than average room sizes you can get a property this size is just a bonus. My only regret? I didn’t postpone my visit for a few months to coincide with the opening of the highly anticipate Resense Spa.
Enjoying the scarcer than usual traffic and working on a travel piece, I tried to visit as many spots in the city as possible, but what I truly enjoyed in Accra was its proximity to the beach. For the inhabitants of Accra, the beach is of course La (Labadi to you and me, the tourists). Who knows maybe its because they get to walk barefoot on the golden sands of Labadi letting their feet soak in the cool water of the Atlantic the people of Accra are probably some of the most laid-back and easy-going in my life. As someone who has lived and worked in Lagos, I was taken aback by this seeming lack of the hustle spirit until I realised that maybe Ghanaian hustle was a different brand of hustle – more civilised and sophisticated, less in your face, looking you straight in the eye.
The proof? The elections which took place a day after my arrival. I saw people who supported different parties debate and argue their points in a softly spoken manner in what would have ended up a high-decibel full-blown argument in Lagos.
Unsurprisingly, Accra also had a laid-back, sophisticated style – from the upmarket diners such as Coco Lounge to more low-key spots like Buka, the city offered a cool vibe, but not anywhere more so than Sandbox, a cosy waterfront bar/diner by La.
What began as a vision for the Ocrans eight years ago which sprang from a muddy field of pigs is now perhaps the coolest spot in the city, especially as the sun disappears over the Atlantic and night falls. Grab a drink, find a seat, hear the ocean’s soft lull in the background and the sounds of jazz from the speakers, feel the ocean breeze on your face as you relax in the capital of cool.