Which country is this?

Ezequeil Zeff (left) and Lautaro Rivas of Buenos Aires.
Ezequeil Zeff (left) and Lautaro Rivas of Buenos Aires.

I thought I was in Amsterdam until I sat down to dine at Kantjil & de Tijger on Spruistracht. On the menu was an Indonesian feast: Pangsit Goreng, Ajam Sereh Pedis and Oteh Oteh. I ordered a sampling of savory stuff. Hadn’t eaten since breakfast and had walked all over the canal city. I was hungry.

Just as I’d finished dinner, a couple of guys sat on the other end of my outdoor table. We struck up a conversation.

They were in search of beef. Naturally — they were from Argentina.

Ezequeil Zeff, 30, and Lautaro Rivas, 46, had been in Amsterdam for a week. They were software guys from Buenos Aires. They liked Amsterdam but the Dutch, they said, were lacking soul. The people here needed a lesson in life from the Latinos. They might have coffee shops here but no tango.

The two Argentines had tired of bland food and come upon this Indonesian place for a little fire in the belly. They wanted meat, like any good carnivorous Argentine. I was worried. I’d eaten at the Pampas-style steakhouses in Buenos Aires. They are the finest in the world. I was worried these two ravenous Argentinians would be more disappointed in the meat dishes here than a Japanese person at Benihana. But they liked it. Whew.

Oddly enough, the next night I strolled into an Argentinian restaurant quite by accident and continued my South American adventure right here in Holland. The empanadas were deelish. So were te jump prawns. Just that they looked at me the entire time that I ate them.


My journey began with work — a seminar for journalists who cover international security and terrorism issues. I was one of the lucky ones chosen to attend the event in Istanbul. If you’ve never been to that city, go! It’s ancient and new, beautiful and plain, Muslim and not, East and West.

Istanbul’s striking landscape and architecture reflecting myriad empires is why most people visit, of course. Tourists yearn for a cruise along the Bosphorus and a visit to the old city, home to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

I did all that, amazed by the wonders of history and geography. But it was all the new people I met that made my visit memorable. So many courageous and brilliant journalists and scholars determined to bring truth to the world. About the carnage in Syria, the revolutions of the Arab world, the militancy of Pakistan.

I appreciated their breadth of knowledge. I learned in their company and also laughed. We had a good time during our many meals together. I especially liked the food at Antiocha, a tiny restaurant near the Pera Palace Hotel. The staff was not prepared for 16 of us descending on them at once but waiter Nureth Kesig accommodated us as though we were royalty. Nearby, at Asmali Cavit, we were shown the fresh catch of the day: bonito from the Black Sea and blue fish from the Bosphorus.

I saved Saturday to visit my cousin’s daughter, Soma, her husband, Bishan and cutie pie daughter Aditi (check out pictures on my Facebook page). ¬†They were kind enough to take me by ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul, which I probably would not have seen otherwise. It was much less touristy there. Soma and Bishan took me for lunch to Ciya, their favorite. The restaurant’s brochure boasts of a menu from “the kitchen memories of forgotten dishes, lost tastes and wiped-off cultures.” We had lamb kebaps, a variety of mezze and pilav. Delicious.

Thanks again, Shoma and Bishan for a lovely afternoon.

One especially poignant moment for me: My CNN colleague and friend Joe Duran took me to visit the house he inherited from Margaret Moth, the fearless camerawoman who blazed a trail for women in television journalism. She was shot in the face during the Bosnian war and, yet, did not let her injury deter her from returning to war zones.

Her house, a bit outside Istanbul, is like a museum of all her possessions — antique furniture, floor to wall shelves filled with books and closets full of Victorian dress collections. Joe and Margaret were the closes of friends and after she died, he began living in that house a few days a week. The rest of the time, he lives in an apartment much closer to the CNN bureau in bustling Taksim Square.

I felt Margaret’s spirit in the house. It was as unique as she was. Beautiful and dark in some places.

So much to reflect on from my trip to Istanbul. A woman I admire, family I love, a bevy of new friends and new knowledge about the world.