Places of Wonder: In Conversation with Silky Way

In our latest edition of Places of Wonder we caught up with Zuzanna El Tanbouli - Founder of Silky Way Magazine, the publication for people who believe in more than just sightseeing, to uncover her ultimate destinations for travel, adventure and wanderlust off the beaten track.

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“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfilment.” - Hilaire Belloc

What motivate us to travel, to journey to new and foreign lands, to discover far away cultures, to dare to uncover mystical places? Is it as simple as a Ryanair flash sale, as complex as a life-changing event, or purely exploratory - a life-long dream coming to fruition? For Zuzanna El Tanbouli - Founder and Editor of Silky Way magazine, travel is about the experience, looking beyond the exterior tourist facade, immersing oneself in the culture and soaking up the atmosphere and uncovering a city’s hidden gems.

Silky Way, a print magazine with two issues under its belt - The Tokyo Experience and a Different Side of Cardiff, began life as Zuzanna’s final major project for her degree in Graphic Communication and has come a long way since then - with an additional digital offering launching this summer, Beyond Silky Way, Zuzanna provides tips and tricks to get the most out of any excursion, calling upon her own experiences and ingrained travel savviness.

For those of you who believe in more than just sightseeing, Silky Way magazine is nothing short of a travel bible - from the novice explorer to the seasoned traveller, Zuzanna skillfully captures the essence of every place she visits, while painting a realistic picture of what to expect and more importantly, what to experience.

We recently spoke with the creator of Silky Way and asked her to pick her some of her favorite travel destinations. From the symmetry of Tokyo and its surrounding cities, to a homecoming in Warsaw and sitting ringside at Lucha Libre in Mexico City, her travels are as varied as they are intriguing, so settle in, indulge in some wanderlust and get to know Zuzanna El Tanbouli - the purveyor of raw and honest travel experiences.


TOKYO:

Why did you visit here?

I’ve always been fascinated by the Japanese language and pop culture. So much that I actually started learning Japanese at the age of 12. Visiting Japan was my lifelong childhood dream that finally came true when my Mum took me there for my 18th birthday!

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What is special about this location?

Can I just say 'everything'? Once I start talking about Japan it’s like going down a rabbit hole - I have so much to say. Tokyo as a whole is a definition of the word 'experience’. There’s so much going on there it’s difficult to nail it down to few things. That variety of things available there for you is exactly what makes Tokyo so special for me.

What were you most inspired by when visiting here?

The visual appeal of the city, mainly its symmetrical and highly aesthetic architecture. Tokyo is such a feast to the eye! Especially for those who like when things neatly align with each other. The Japanese are absolute pros at such solutions.

Did you discover any hidden gems of the beaten track?

Oh so many of them! It might have been easier for me to do so as I speak the language but I’ve tried my best to share some advice on hidden gems of Tokyo in Silky Way’s 1st issue. There's so much more than just the touristy sites that this city has to offer and it's actually not that hard to find. Most of the times you just have to ask. What I've noticed is that Japanese people seem to get really excited when they have the opportunity to share their knowledge with you.

Was there anything that surprised you about this place?

Yes! I was aware of many things beforehand as I studied Japanese culture for a while but what stood out to me the most the first time I visited was that, despite being such an overpopulated city, no one would ever bump into you on the streets. Japanese people are very wary of the concept of physical personal space and respect it a lot. It was very refreshing, especially when compared to people’s behaviour on the streets of London or Warsaw.

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Was there anywhere here that you kept returning to?

Favourite cafes, konbini shops, Shibuya and Harajuku districts, the observatory on top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Govt Building and so on... I visit Tokyo pretty much every year now and always make sure to check up on my favourite spots and areas. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it.

What was the peak and pit of this trip?

I love it so much there that my whole time in Tokyo feels like 'the peak’. But there’s definitely one 'pit’ that gets me everytime it happens - earthquakes. I’m scared to death of them. After my first quite a strong one a few years ago (the epicentre, just outside of Tokyo, was scale 5, the city felt it around 3-4 in scale) I genuinely couldn’t sleep for the next few days. That’s how terrified I felt.

From a design perspective what stood out about this place?

How visually pleasing and practical at the same time things in Japan are. The Japanese are great at mixing modern aesthetics with practical solutions - something that I feel is often missing in European design (it seems like the form and the meaning is often forgotten in favour of just the looks).

Lasting memory from this location?

Long nights at Karaoke Bars. There’s nothing more Japanese than a Karaoke night out.

WARSAW:

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“It’s the city of my adolescence and a place that my heart will always keep on coming back to, despite where in the world I am.”

What is special about this location?

To be honest, I have a very difficult emotional relationship with Warsaw. I love this city to bits, mostly for nostalgic reasons, but at the same time I hate the 'grayness’ of it. But the more mature I get the more I understand that this grayness should be embraced rather than fought with as it comes from a deep and dark place in Warsaw’s history. And this is what for me is the most special about this city - how despite its tragic history the nation has never given up on it. Warsaw has literally risen like a phoenix from the ashes after being completely destroyed during the WWII and in such a short time grew to be now up to pair with other amazing European capitals

What were you most inspired by when visiting here?

Warsaw has never inspired me while I was living there. It started to inspire me I think around the 2nd or 3rd time I went back to visit after moving out to the UK. What inspires me about Warsaw now is its quick growth that can be easily spotted when visiting. Things are changing there for the better and it seems like the city has entered its second youth.

Did you discover any hidden gems of the beaten track?

I did and I still do! What I’ve noticed about Varsovians is that we like to keep things just between us and our local communities. That said, it might be hard for tourists to experience Warsaw the way the locals do. That habit of ours can also, at times, make it difficult for people from different areas of Warsaw to explore hidden gems in the other parts of the city. So if you ever find yourself in the Polish capital don’t get discouraged by how little info might be available about local gems and quirks! Think of it as a challenge!

Was there anything that surprised you about this place?

After living in the UK for the past 4 years it always surprises me how reliable Warsaw’s public transport is. I already got used to train cancellations, late or no-show buses and all sorts of issues in the tube and everytime I go back to Warsaw I’m pleasantly surprised at how well organised the transport network is. I definitely took that for granted when I was living there.

Was there anywhere here that you kept returning to?

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Everytime I’m back I keep returning to this hill near mine, it’s called 'Kazurka’. Where I live in Warsaw is right next to the Kabacki Forest and if you climb up that hill you’ll get a lovely view of the forest on your left and the city on the right. It’s pretty cool.

What was the peak and pit of this trip?

The peaks of my visits to Warsaw are when I discover new quirks in the city, such as underground riverside bars, edgy coffee shops or new design bookshops. The pits are when I come across situations that remind me why I’ve decided to leave.

From a design perspective what stood out about this place?

The aforementioned 'grayness'. And by that I don’t mean that Warsaw is literally grey. Once you visit you’ll get what I mean. This city is a combination of some amazing baroque and renaissance etc. architecture with blocky and raw communist buildings that altogether create a fascinating mix, constantly reminding Varsovians of what our city could’ve been if not for some tragic events in our history.

Lasting memory from this location?

Drinking by the river at the Vistulan Boulevards. It used to be our favourite thing to do in the summer.

MEXICO:

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Why did you visit here?

I needed a mental break after quitting my first graduate job and wanted to go somewhere completely new. I was torn between Vietnam and Mexico and I’ve decided to choose the latest as one of my traveler friends from Japan was visiting at that time so we arranged to meet up.

What is special about this location?

Mexico is an absolute treat for the mind and soul. The atmosphere there is something I’ve never experienced before. All the Mexicans I’ve met were the happiest people alive, so proud of where they are from and all of them kept on saying that they might be poorer compared to other countries but at least they live in paradise. After traveling around Mexico for 2 months I completely understood what they meant by that - Mexico does feel like a paradise on Earth. I’ve learnt a lot about happiness and what’s really important in life while there.

What were you most inspired by when visiting here?

The people and the views. Mexicans are nothing but welcoming and warm. They are very outgoing and live very chill lifestyles. They might not be as mindful of others as the Japanese are but they will always go out of their way to help you as much as possible. They really value family and friendships and seem to dedicate a lot of time to cherish those relationships which I've found inspiring. And the views of Mexican landscapes are one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen. Postcard pictures are nothing compared to what you’ll witness there.

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Did you discover any hidden gems of the beaten track?

I did thanks to all my lovely Mexican hosts in all sorts of places! If I were to recommend anything, I’d that if you ever end up in the infamous party central Cancún, try to avoid the hotel zone and wander into the actual city. The girls I stayed with there lived in the very residential area and took me to some of their favourite bars where I was usually the only foreigner! And that is actually very surprising considering I was visiting Cancún right in the middle of Spring Break.

Was there anything that surprised you about this place?

The amount of plastic bags being used for pretty much everything (I really mean it - everything). Sadly, I’ve noticed that this extensive use of plastic is the response to poverty and in many places it seemed to be their solution to the lack of clean running water etc., which is something I can’t blame them for. Seeing that actually opened my eyes to how important it is for those who can afford to fight the plastic waste to also help fight poverty and unfair treatment by the big concerns in countries such as Mexico.

Was there anywhere here that you kept returning to?

In my mind I keep returning to mainly Mexico City, the blue agave fields in Tequila and the beaches of Yucatán peninsula. I will go back to Mexico and I’ll definitely stop by those places again.

From a design perspective what stood out about this place?

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The colours and the amount of various plants everywhere. I’ve never been anywhere as colourful as Mexico. Everything is bright and the colours are incredibly rich. I also loved the hand painted signage on Mexican buildings. You won’t really find any signboards there as pretty much all of them are just neatly painted on.

Culturally what was different from home?

The overall atmosphere of total freedom. Poland has many rules, especially the unspoken ones, while in Mexico everyone is so relaxed that as long as you’re nice, respectful and not hurting anyone you’re fine to do anything.

Lasting memory from this location?

Swimming in the amazingly blue waters, chilling on the beach and enjoying Pina Coladas. Also, going to the Lucha Libre (Mexican Masked Wrestling) show in Mexico City!


Whistle-Stop Tour:

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Travel bucket list:

I’d love a road trip around the US and to see more of Canada! Also, I definitely need to get myself back to Latin America. I’m very hungry for Peru, Nicaragua and Brazil. I’m also planning on Hong Kong, Switzerland and Vietnam soon. But to be honest… pretty much everywhere I haven’t been yet is on my wish list!


Advice for would-be travelers:

Fear less and do more! What makes traveling amazing is the ability to experience so many new things and to do so you need to forget about any language barriers or other travel-related fears and just let yourself free. It’s easier than you think!


Travel do's and don’ts:

Do research! Whether is a research about your travel options or just a general one, it’s important to have a bit of an idea about the place you’re heading to. Also do make friends with the locals and definitely do try as much local food as possible!Don’t get too upset when you loose something or your plans change - you will loose things and your plans will change. Just accept that and think of it as an opportunity! And don’t be rude or disrespectful towards different cultures. Sounds easy, just some common sense but I’ve seen so many people completely forgetting they are in a different country.

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Wanderlust:

The fact that I can try new food, experience a different culture and meet people with a mindset completely alien to mine already gets me excited for traveling. There’s something absolutely fascinating about how different people can be depending on where they are from. Traveling is an amazing opportunity to learn how to live a better life and I want to keep learning.

You can check out Silky Way issues one and two here.

Want to see more of Zuzzana’s travels then check out Beyond Silky Way here.

PlacesJenna Campbell