Project Bly Brings World Street Market Culture To You

Mumbai street market
Courtesy of Shriti Bannerjee, ProjectBly.com

If you are the kind of traveler who lives for digging through flea markets and wandering through souks, you might want to travel over to ProjectBly.com, a new lifestyle website featuring a rotation of world street market collections. In addition to shopping for carefully curated home goods and textiles, you can also check out street photography, food, fashion and members’ profiles.

Bly highlights a new city and one-of-a-kind market goods every two months, working with local photojournalists to capture the style and spirit of each place. The website works with local vendors and artisans directly to get a fair price on goods, and gives 5 percent of proceeds to local charities. The first featured city is Mumbai, India, with La Paz, Bolivia, debuting in early June. Other cities planned for the first year include Kumasi, Ghana; Bukhara, Uzbekistan; Malacca, Malaysia; and Berlin, Germany.

Bly is named after Nellie Bly, a pioneering female journalist who traveled around the world in 72 days in 1889 with just two day’s notice and one small bag (check out a nifty drawing of Nellie Bly’s packing list, which included a flask and a jar of cold cream). The founder of Bly, Rena Thiagarajan, was born in the former Indian city of Madras (now Chennai) and now lives in San Francisco, and has traveled the world in search of unique design finds and street culture.

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Get hunting at ProjectBly.com and check out the slideshow of street photography featured on the site.

Skateboarding Through India


Extreme sports videos don’t get enough credit as artistic travelogues. For all the flinch-inducing, jaw-dropping athletic skill on display, the real star of extreme sports videos is often not the stunt-happy main character – it’s the backdrop. Take for instance Danny Macaskill’s rampart-flipping, phone booth-hopping mountain bike riding on the Isle of Skye. The video’s fine-grained camera work and textured shots show off his native northern Scotland in a way that virtually eclipses the bicycle trickery going on in the foreground. Another great example is Ryan Doyle’s parkour video in Dubai. His rolls and gainers through souks and off bagdirs are OK and everything, sure, but it’s the backdrop that shines through.

So it is as well with skateboarder Killian Martin’s new video above. As the freestyler spins and caspers his way through India, the director, Brett Novak, manages to sell the subcontinental playground better than most Indian tourism campaigns I’ve seen. The takeaway is clear: if you work for a tourism board, hire a wingsuit diver, an artistic extreme sports director and an indie band, and watch the tourists stream in.

Memories Of Aleppo, Syria

Aleppo, Syria
I pulled into Aleppo, Syria, on January 10, 1994, and had a hard time caring that I was in one of the most historic cities of the Arab world. I was in the grip of a bad flu courtesy of a combination of a desert hike and an air-conditioned bus ride. I barely looked at the sleek minarets, medieval citadel and bustling markets. All I wanted was a bed, medicine and solitude.

Grumpy and harassed, I elbowed my way through the crowd of Russian prostitutes and smugglers who seemed to dominate the neighborhood around the bus station. Hotel after hotel was full. I was feeling weaker by the minute. Then I came to the Hotel Syria and was greeted by the manager Sali, a thin man with excellent English, graying hair and a ready smile. He took one look at me and tut-tutted.

“You shouldn’t be traveling in this condition. Come in and I’ll get you tea.”

“All I need is sleep,” I replied.

“Rest, I’ll bring you tea.”

I remember nothing of the room I collapsed in, or indeed anything else about the Hotel Syria. All I remember is Sali. Bringing me tea. Bringing fruit form the market. Bringing me medicine from the pharmacy without my asking.

“No, keep your money. You are a guest. Not like those Russians. They spend four days on the bus to come here and only cause trouble. I’m going to buy some disinfectant and spray them when they come through the door.”

%Gallery-168005%I was soon on the mend and out exploring Aleppo. From the citadel I could see the city spread out to all horizons, minarets pointing to the sky and chemical factories belching poison in the distance. In the evenings I’d return and sit with Sali drinking tea and recounting my day.

The best days were spent in the famous souk, once the western terminus of the Silk Road and one of the best preserved in the world. I wrote in my journal that it was “everything Westerners think of when they think of bazaars. A low roof arches over smoky stalls selling spices. Trucks and donkeys jockey for position in crowded alleys. Everything is for sale here: spices, clothing, sweets, all kinds of fruit, shoes, rope, gold jewelry, silk, dishes, pipes, toys, cigarettes, nuts, tea sets, gravestones, tiles, soap, leather, perfume, brooms, combs, juice, wedding dresses, etc. I saw no tourists.”

As I wandered down one of the little streets, two men in a tiny silk stall on a corner called out to me, “Where are you from?”

“Canada.” I replied.

One of them brought up two fingers in front of his eyes and brought them together, saying, “I crush you.” A “Kids in the Hall” reference in Syria?

I had found the famous Mohammed brothers. I’d heard about them a month ago in Turkey from other travelers. These nine brothers were the queens of the souk, flamboyantly propositioning passersby and grilling foreigners for pickup lines and dirty words that they carefully entered into a little black book.

They weren’t really gay (I think) they just found it fun. As we sat in their stall drinking tea they told me, “You nice, but no gay. Want to go to Turkish bath?”

“I think I’ll pass.”

“Too bad,” one said, then turned to the crowd to call out in English, “I love you! You nice!”

An old guy tottered past. One of the Mohammeds turned to me.

“He not nice, maybe 50 years ago.”

Back in those days no tourist made it through Aleppo without meeting these guys. They had a constantly growing photo album of their guests, including pictures of people I’d met weeks before. The whole Mohammed family owned eight shops (“we’re mafia”) and basically ran the street. That didn’t stop them from occasionally getting in trouble from Syrians who didn’t like their queer routine.

Now their shops have burned to the ground along with the rest of the souk, victims of the fighting between insurgents and soldiers of the Assad regime. The Mohammed brothers can no longer sit behind piles of silk propositioning Arabs in English and expanding their dirty vocabulary with the help of a steady stream of bemused foreign guests.

What happened to them? Are they hiding in their homes waiting for the storm to pass? Are they among the crowds of refugees fleeing to Turkey? Or did their sense of fun finally catch up with them and they fell victim to the Islamists who have joined the ranks of the insurgency? And what happened to Sali? He was old enough that he might have mercifully died before his world fell apart. If he still lives he’s in his 70s, and a war zone is pitiless on the elderly.

One of the affects of travel is that these places are no longer abstract images on the news. They’re real, with real people who are suffering real hardship. Perhaps if Sali had nursed Obama and Romney back to health, or if the two candidates had sat for a time sharing tea and dirty jokes with the Mohammed brothers, the sufferings of millions of Syrians would be a burning issue in this election.

Perhaps our leaders should get out of their political bubble and travel more.

[Photo courtesy Luigi Guarino]

A travel guide to the 2011 Oscar movies

Travel guide to Oscar moviesThe 83rd annual Academy Awards are coming up in a few weeks and the Oscars race is on. This year’s nominations contained few surprises, with many nods for Brit period piece The King’s Speech, Facebook biopic The Social Network, and headtrip Inception. While 2010’s ultimate travel blockbuster Eat, Pray, Love failed to made the cut, there’s still plenty to inspire wanderlust among the Best Picture picks.

Read on for a travel guide to the best movies of 2010 and how to create your own Oscar-worthy trip.

127 HoursLocation: Danny Boyle’s nail-biter was shot on location in Utah’s Blue John Canyon near Moab and on a set in Salt Lake City. Go there: Should you want to explore Moab’s desert and canyons while keeping all limbs intact, check out Moab in fall for bike races and art festivals.



Black Swan
Location: Much of the ballet psychodrama was shot in New York City, though the performances were filmed upstate in Purchase, New York. Go there: To see the real “Swan Lake” on stage at Lincoln Center, you’ll have to hope tickets aren’t sold out for the New York City Ballet, performing this month February 11-26.

The FighterLocation: in the grand tradition of Oscar winners Good Will Hunting and The Departed, the Mark Wahlberg boxing flick was filmed in Massachusetts, in Micky Ward’s real hometown of Lowell, 30 miles north of Boston. Go there: For a map of locations in Lowell, check out this blog post and perhaps spot Micky Ward at the West End Gym.

InceptionLocation: The setting of this film depends on what dream level you’re in. The locations list includes Los Angeles, England, Paris, Japan, even Morocco. Go there: There are plenty of real locations to visit, including University College London and Tangier’s Grand Souk. Canada’s Fortress Mountain Resort where the snow scenes were shot is currently closed, but you can ski nearby in Banff.



The Kids Are All Right
Location: Director Lisa Cholodenko is a big fan of southern California, she also filmed the 2002 Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. Go there: Love it or hate it, L.A. is still a top travel destination in the US and perhaps this year you can combine with a trip to Vegas, if the X Train gets moving.

The King’s SpeechLocation: A prince and a commoner in the wedding of the century. Sound familiar? This historical drama was shot in and around London, though stand-ins were used for Buckingham Palace’s interiors. Go there: It might be hard to recreate the vintage look of the film, but London is full of atmospheric and historic architecture and palaces to visit. If you’re a sucker for English period films or places Colin Firth has graced, tour company P & P Tours can show you around many historic movie locations like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

The Social NetworkLocation: Another Massachusetts and California movie, this very academic film shot at many college and prep school campuses, but none of them Harvard, which hasn’t allowed film crews in decades. Go there: If you enjoyed the Winklevoss rowing scene, head to England this summer for the Henley Royal Regatta June 29 – July 3.

Toy Story 3 – Location: The latest in the Pixar animated trilogy is set at the Sunnyside Daycare. Go there: Reviews are mixed, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a new Pixar parade, to let fans see their favorite characters in “person.” Visit any Disney gift shop to make your own toy story.

True Grit – Location: The Coen brothers western remake may be set in 19th century Arkansas, but it was filmed in modern day Santa Fe, New Mexico and Texas, taking over much of towns like Granger. Go there: If you’re a film purist or big John Wayne fan, you can tour the locations of the original film in Ouray County, Colorado.

Winter’s Bone – Location: Many moviegoers hadn’t heard of this film when nominations were announced, set and shot in the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri. Go there: The difficult film centers around the effects of methamphetamine on a rural family, but travel destinations don’t get much more wholesome than Branson, Missouri. Bring the family for riverboat shows and the best bathroom in the country.

[Photo by Flickr user Lisa Norman]

Abercrombie & Kent: Five cinema-cations around the world

You may not have that look that Hollywood craves, but you still want to get close to the action, right? You want to touch the greatness that comes with being splashed across screens from coast to coast. Thanks to the latest concept from luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent, you don’t need talent. The latest “cinema-cation” packages send you to the locations where some of the hottest movies of the last year or so have been shot. There are enough options that you’ll definitely find something to match your personal style.

1. Sex and the City 2
After seeing this movie opening night on May 27, 2010, dash off to Morocco. A&K Group Managing Director George Morgan-Grenville was actually over there while movie was being filmed at the Amanjena Hotel and in the Djema el-Fna Square souks. The interiors and pool scenes, he says, were shot at the soon-to-open Mandarin Oriental Jnan Rahma and Palmeraie over in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Suggests Morgan Grenvile: “Take a camel ride at sunset and spend the night under the stars in a Bedouin-style tented camp surrounded by the largest sand dunes in the world.”

2. Eat , Pray, Love
Before going to see Eat, Pray, Love on August 13, 2010, check out the treasures of Northern India with this A&K Journey for Women. You’ll take apersonal journey with A&K guide Shagun Mohan, who says, “We spend time with local women at a bead-making workshop in the holy city of Varanasi, witness a spiritual Aarti ceremony on the Ganges at night, see the Taj Mahal at both sunrise and sunset, and visit Khajuraho’s Hindu temples. This kind of journey is a life-changing experience for almost anyone.” 3. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallow Part 1
Families can get a feel for Harry Potter‘s Great Britain ahead of the November 19, 2010 opening with the A&K Tailor Made Magical Great Britain package. According to Duncan Hambidge of A&K Europe, who has visited may Harry Potter film spots with his family, “One highlight for children is the Great Hall at Oxford University, Hogwart’s Dining Room. Another favorite is crossing the dramatic Glenfinnian Viaduct in the Western Highlands aboard The Royal Scotsman, the route taken by the Hogwart’s Express train in the Chambers of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire.

4. The Hurt Locker
Last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, The Hurt Locker captured the attention of audiences across the United States. A&K suggests following in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia if you’re looking for travel inspired by this movie. The A&K Extreme Adventures Jordan package is the way to go, led by Raed Omar Saleem.

Saleem’s been leading thrill-seeking visitors through Jordan since 1997 and recalls from a recent excursion, “In the middle of nowhere, we pitch our tents and gather around the campfire for dinner, recalling the hikes through ancient cities, the 4X4 treks and mountain climbs that brought us here. Without speaking of it, we all share the same sense of awe, the palpable sense that time passes through this desert yet barely seems to touch it. The moon-like landscape stretches to the mountains, bannered by multicolored striations in the rock. The smooth reddish sand is devoid of stones, and our camels’ toes rouse no dust as they thudded in their steady pace. There is no dust here in the valley of Wadi Rum, once a sea basin and later the place T.E. Lawrence found his calling. That is the beauty of the desert: it is nothing and everything.”

5. Creation: The True Story of Charles Darwin
Trace the history of life with the A&K Wonders of the Galapagos trip. Says A&K’s Ian Mackinnon, “The islands of the Galapagos offer an opportunity to interact with the natural world to a degree that’s virtually impossible anywhere else.”

He suggests, “Swim and snorkel with sea lions and turtles. Stroll past colonies of penguins and blue-footed boobies. Imagine yourself as Charles Darwin seeing a tortoise for the first time. Every island is unique; it’s no wonder Darwin was changed by his time there.”

I suggest: “Bring a creationist and ask constantly if he thinks dinosaurs walked the earth 5,000 years ago. Point and laugh.”