Recommendations – food and accommodation
I know that some people are finding these blog entries through the ‘travel’ tag, so here is a quick list of places I stayed, and where I ate, that I would recommend.
I stayed with friends, so no accommodation recommendations, although I heard very good things about the trio of M.I.J.E hostels/hotels, all in Le Marais, in old-style buildings, very picturesque and atmostpheric. One is right by the beautiful St Gervais church.
I ate several times at La Salle a Manger, at the bottom of Rue Mouffetarde (a good place too, to shop for food). Sunday brunch is a big deal in Paris, lots of places offer special menus. At La Salle a Manger, they have a three-course meal of breads and spreads, pate and smoked salmon, with scrambled eggs, salad, yoghurt, wine or cold drink, coffee or hot chocolate or tea. We ate at 3pm, so it is an all-day thing. 20 euros.
We rented our apartment through Hyur Guest Service, and they seemed to offer a good range of services for visitors. They also took us to and from the airport. The apartment was very spacious, and right in the heart of the city.
We ate in many wonderful places. we loved broccoli soup at The Club, and had a wonderful Georgian meal at a restaurant on (I think) Hanrepetutyan Poghots, or Khandjian Poghots, near the corner of Sayat-Nova street. Can’t remember the name of it (CP, can you?) It looks a lot like a dodgy family restaurant from the front but was recommended to us by our friends which is how we came to eat there. It was excellent. Quite a big place with several rooms, is what to look for if you decide to hunt it down.
And don’t miss the Vernissage market every Sunday, if you love bric-a-brac from past times, alongside beautiful handcrafts and artwork.
In Mostar I stayed in the Konak apartments, where for 15 euro (low season) I had a simple twin room, bathroom, and small kitchen, just off Marsala Tita St, right near the Old Bridge. No phone in the place unfortunately. It was pretty cold in the room, but there was heating. All of Mostar seemed incredibly cold indoors this winter.
In summer I would also recommend that people with time and their own transport/tents consider staying at Blagaj (ten km away). Blagaj is beautiful, a picturesque little town sheltered on three sides by high cliffs and mountains, one of which has its own fortress. Local tourism is developing there. A good friend of mine plans to have opened a small camping ground there by summer 2008. You will be able to pitch your tents at the edge of the Buna, the river that is fed by an underground natural spring, that is the freshest, coldest water you could ever wish to swim in – perfect on one of Mostar’s blisteringly hot sumer days of 40+ degrees. If you ask at the local tourist office in Blagaj they will be able to help you locate the campsite.
I didn’t eat any particularly amazing food in Mostar. I did enjoy a fine krompiraca (potato pie) in Mostar, at the Bosforus Cafe in the Old Town, on the west side of the Old Bridge. Be warned though, they seem to be one of the only places making this old specialty, and their pies tend to sell out on pre-orders mostly, so try to get in early. I also had great cevape (cevapcici) at a cafe that, nine years ago at least, was called Kod Mama. I didn’t notice this time around if the name was still the same, but if you ask people, they should be able to direct you. It is also on the west side of the Old Town, over the bridge.
In Blagaj you should eat at the trout restaurant – it is one of the things Blagaj is known for. They sell other things as well as trout, but if you like fish – this place is the best.
We stayed in a couple of different places – rooms for rent in people’s houses. It is not difficult to find something in low season – even over New Year.
Food – I don’t know the name of the restaurant we liked best, but here is how you find it. Place yourself on Stradun, facing towards Ploce Gate. Go one block to your left (up any of the small streets). You will go up some stairs. This little street has numerous restuarants, all trying to attract tourists. Walk right to the end of this street, towards Ploce Gate. the restaurant right at the end, on the left hand side, after it seems like the street has almost finished, looks different to the others, as there is no-one spruiking out the front. I think the name of the restaurant is Rosia, or Rosa, or Rosalba, or something. Great food, the 1 litre bottle of Hercegovinian wine we chose to wash down our meal was perfect, the service was friendly and good. The walls are lined with reviews of the place, in English and Croatian.
We hired our car from a little shop just off Stradun to the right-hand side, at the bottom of the square that has the big staircase in it (like a small version of Rome’s Spanish Steps). Look for the shop that has a ‘Change’ sign, and sells heavy-metal paraphernalia, like t-shirts and studded belts. The guy in there – Sergei (looks a bit like the actor Rade Serbedzija, who was in the remake of The Saint) booked our hire car for us, and was very helpful and friendly all round.
In Lecce we stayed in a pretty cool apartment. We found it by wandering from the station towards the town centre, and seeing a sign directing us towards a bed and breakfast in a street called Via Beomondo. Lecce seems to have quite a few B+B rooms on offer. This one was good for us because it was in the old part of town, but an easy walk from the station.
Our host Alessandro told we would be able to use bikes while we stayed there, or even a Vespa, but don’t be too persuaded by this! It turned out the bikes were in high demand by his neighbour, who seemed to get first dibs (and in any case, when w did get hold of them, came with flat tyres and dodgy handlebars), and the Vespa is in fact a vintage machine belonging to his brother, who was not at all keen about the idea of tourists gunning it around town, and was amused to hear it had been offered! But the apartment itself is a cool little place with a mezzanine floor, modern kitchen and bathroom, and a washing machine. Not everything was in working order when we were there. 50 euros per night.
Food – definitely to the trattoria called Alle Due Corti, on Corte dei Giugni. It offers typical Pugliese cuisine, with yummy local wine. We went back there twice. Loved the ciceri e trie (local pasta dish with chick peas), that the station attendant in Bari station had told us about when we bought our tickets to Lecce.
We stayed in Hotel Zara. Nothing much to rave about here, it was secure, service was perfunctory but adequate, room was kind of clean, but also kind of falling apart in places. Somewhere in Spaccanapoli would probably have had a lot more atmosphere, but it was convenient to be near the station. It was easy to walk most places from Hotel Zara.
Food – I am the wrong person to ask as I found Neapolitan food a bit disappointing – even the pizzas, which I know I am supposed to love. We joined the queues at Pizzeria Trianon, one of a few very famous, old-style, authentic pizzerias. I asked someone, “Is it really that good here, that all these people are waiting?” “He turned to me and face lit up and went all shiny and misty-eyed, and said, “it is excellent! It is perfect! The best!” So we decided to wait around for our turn. The queue seemed impossible, but in fact we were only waiting about 15 minutes. So do check out Trianon or its nearby neighbour Pizza De Michele. SB ordered a puttanesca-type pizza, that was apparently perfect in every way. So it is just me that doesn’t get the Neapolitan pizza thing.
We stayed in a very nice place on the main drag from the train station to the river (Corso Italia) called Centro Storico. This was probably my favourite place to stay for the whole Italian leg of my trip. It was a beautiful room, a breakfast voucher was included, own bathroom, four-poster bed, the works. Ignore the dreadful English translations on the website (or giggle at them if you prefer, I have a feeling a computer translator has been used) – read it in Italian if you can. But I loved this place. The couple running it are young and enthusiastic. Worth staying a couple of nights if you can find enough things to do in Pisa.
Food – I had a couple of great meals at the Osteria Del Tinti, typical Tuscan Cuisine.
I stayed with friends, but had a very good meal in a rstaurant called Il Tramvai, somewhere in Oltrarno. I’ve eated there before too, it always pleases. Ask around for an address. It is in a piazza. Again, typical Tuscan food, range of interesting dishes to choose from, including desserts.
I stayed first in the Beehive Hostel/Hotel, which is very near Roma Termini in Via Marghera, and very comfortable indeed. I would have stayed longer but they were fully booked. Highly recommended as it is so comfortable and well-organised. You can book a bed online, and the website also offers an excellent private apartment booking service across several Italian cities.
I then moved on to Hotel Positano, nearby in Via Palestra, where the staff were very helpful and friendly, including coming up seven floors to let me know there was a phone call for me downstairs. No phones in rooms, but some very light, bright rooms, comfortable enough. A good budget option, I thought. Where Hotel Zara in Naples was kind of downmarket and disinterested, Hotel Positano had a bit more love and care going around.
I hope these suggestions are helpful to you if you are traveling to any of these places. Best wishes for your journeys!