I was attracted by the name, and delighted to find a charming yet amazingly cheap hotel bang in the centre of Mexico City. The enormous rooms are centred around an airy atrium, and the hotel bar is perfect for an ice cold Corona after the heat of the city. Far superior to the other 'backpacker' options, with internet access and helpful staff.
Isabel la Catolica 63 (Isabel la Catolica metro)
A place to go and dance tango or just to look at people dancing 'for real'. Unlike most of other tango places, that do shows 'for export', it is rough and ready (in a barely-converted warehouse) and full of young people. Lessons also available, including some for same sex couples.
Sarmiento 4006. Tel 15 5325-1630. Buses: 168-92-151-160-36 Subte A estación Castro Barros y Subte B estación Medrano.
Google map: tinyurl.com/n89zo5
Sometimes, when the mercury is nudging 40 degrees and there isn't space on the beach for a German to lay out a handkerchief, let alone a towel, escape from the heat and clamour of Rio can be a welcome relief. The traditional getaway route for Cariocas is to take the Washington Luis highway to the cool mountain cities of Petrópolis, Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo.
Recently though, some of a more enterprising nature have begun to open up the Serra Fluminense above the oil boom town of Macaé in the north of Rio State. The centerpiece of this area is the sleepy hill town of Sana, a bridging point across the crystalline, cascading waters of the Sana River, guarded by the majestic 3,700 foot Pedra do Peito do Pombo (Pigeon Breast Rock).
The best choices for accommodation in Sana are the town’s charming and inexpensive pousadas. Highly recommended is the pretty Repousa da Sana, with its mature gardens, restaurant serving tasty local dishes cooked in a wood burning oven (ask for the baked trout), shop selling local crafts and its comfy, tastefully decorated riverside chalets.
A big bonus here is that the owner, Antenor Sousa, speaks passable English, a rarity in this part of the world. He is a keen photographer and has spent the last 20 years documenting the town and its surroundings so there isn’t a lot he doesn’t know about the place.
For travelers with an eye on their budget, many pousadas also offer a camping option with bathroom and laundry facilities. From your base in town you can take guided walks to the dozens of waterfalls and natural swimming pools that dot the region, trek up some of Sana’s steepling granite peaks or enjoy a very agreeable couple of days’ pony trekking. There’s also enough rock climbing, abseiling, mountain biking, kayaking and white water rafting to keep the adventure sports enthusiast absorbed for days.
And after these strenuous calisthenics, what better way to wind down than in a hammock on your chalet deck, caipirinha strategically placed at arm’s length, with the calls of roosting flocks of parrots and the chattering of the river lulling you to sleep? Keep a weather eye on your drink though, as the local Micou monkeys, emboldened by human contact, are rather partial to those cachaça-impregnated lemons.
I should point out one small inconvenience. The nearest bank is 12 miles away in Casimiro de Abreu and, as telephones are a relatively new phenomenon in Sana, many of the town’s pousadas, bars and restaurants don’t accept credit cards.
However, carrying cash does not present the safety risks that it does in Rio. You are less likely to be mugged than savaged by a member of the town’s bovine community which outnumbers the human population by some distance, in other words, not very likely at all.
There is no direct public transport link between Rio and Sana. Take an air conditioned coach from the Terminal Rodoviaria Novo Rio to the town of Casimiro de Abreu (the journey last about three hours), from whence you can catch one of the large number of VW Combis that shuttle between Casimiro and Sana. Don't worry when you hit a dirt road as you wind your way up into the hills; the district council in Macaé has plans to pave it but it hasn't happened yet. The Repousa da Sana is about two kilometres before the town centre on your left. Ask the driver to drop you there. There are two websites in Portuguese that you will find useful, the general information site, www.portaldosana.com.br, and the Repousa da Sana's homepage, www.repousadasana.com.br.
It's a 24-hour hot dog and fruit juice joint that is something of a legend. It's cheap - the special is one juicy hot dog with a fruit drink for $1.45, or a single frank for 75 cents - and fast making it the ideal fuel during a pit stop while touring the nearby bars.
2090 Broadway at 71st Street
Watch the world go by and, if you have the courage, challenge for a game of chess. It is a chilled out park and people watching is the best pastime here. New Yorkers in a nutshell. After spending hours being nosey head down to John's Pizza on Bleeker Street (five minutes away).
When I went to NY I was visiting my partner and all his colleagues said this was the best pizza to be had. I enjoyed it (held to Sicily making the best pizzas but hey-ho) but definitely was part of the NY experience. Gets very busy so be prepared.
MacDougal Street and then a walk down Bleeker Street for dinner.
Simply the best Vietnamese food in London - and I've tried all the other Kingsland Road eateries. This one is next to the Viet Social Club. The char-grilled squid is amazing. The Sea Bass, at 6 quid, delectable! Go eat!
12-14 Englefield Road; te: 020 7249 0877
A fab, simple tapas bar at the lower end of the Barri Gotic quarter. It has a horseshoe-shaped bar, on top of which is displayed a wide array of tapas. If you're uncertain in the Spanish language you can easily just point. Very friendly owners and frequented mainly by locals. They serve cava by the glass or why not try the white wine served in the strange little ceramic dishes? There are tables but it's much more fun to perch high on stools around the bar. From here you can listen to the chat and watch the fun. Try it and I bet it will become a firm favourite.
c/de la Mercè 16. Lower end of the Barri Gotic. If you're at the bottom end of the Ramblas, strike off right from the Statue of Christopher Columbus as you look up the Ramblas.
Otherwise known as “soup dumplings”, these are a Shanghai speciality. They can be found sold cheaply on the street either fried or steamed, and also at some Shanghainese restaurants. Watch out on your first bite though: unfortunate first-timers often get a squirt of scalding liquid on their clothing and lose the lining from the roof of their mouths.
Street stalls and restaurants
Old-school public transport - and mainly a cheap and enjoyable way to get a handle on the city, a circuit that takes in a lot of the main sights such as the art gallery and central squares.
Stops all round the centre - outside Kiasma gallery or Kauppatori (Market Square)
The best breakfasts in America - the blueberry pancakes are to die for, though my sister swears by the banana and pecan ones. Absolutely no frills, but friendly service and great food make this a must for breakfast if you're visiting Boston.
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, 429 Columbus Avenue, Boston; Open Mon-Fri, 6am-2.30pm, and Sat, 7.30am-1pm; Tel: +1 (617) 536-7669; Nearest stations: Back Bay or Mass Ave; www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/food_drink/cheap/documents/04122414.asp
An old, old tip, this. Slap bang in the centre of the city, you'll probably have passed by this huge department store on a number of occasions if you've been to Paris. If you fancy a good cheap meal with an excellent view then grab a plate in the restaurant on one of the upper floors. Admittedly the decor is somewhat drab, and you're unlikely to bump into any of Paris's chic set (most of the clientelle look like octogenarians) but if you get a table by the window then none of that matters. This is also a good spot for using the toilet if you get caught short.
BHV, 52/64 Rue de Rivoli, near Hotel de Ville metro.
Budget priced, filling and very good vegetarian food in the heart of town. On the menu is always a light option, a lunch option, a dinner special, soup, and quiche and a salad. The food is very healthy and wholefoody but you won't leave hungry. You could eat there all week and not get bored. Prices range from £3 to £6.50. It gets very busy, and is very cosy so be prepared to queue at times and especially to share a table. Also bear in mind that it's bad etiquette to reserve seats before getting your food! You can also do take-away.
31 Neal Street; Tube: Covent Garden or Leicester Square
Vegetarian fast food cafe in Kreuzberg, selling 29 different veggie burgers, gorgeous chips (fried with skins still on) and salad, plus tofu curry wurst and a variety of other vegan treats, topped off with lovely juices or beers. 7 euros buys you a burger, chips, salad and a drink. The staff were very friendly (and speak good english when your German lapses) and it stays open until 1am at the weekends.
wienerstresse 19, berlin 10999; www.yellow-sunshine.com/
The Cafe at the NSW supreme court is open to the public and does gorgeous food. It's cheap and offers excellent views of the city from it's high level (can't remember which floor). Only available for lunch!
It is on the corner of Macquarie Street and Queen's Square opposite the Mint. Near St. James station.
Rikkys is a nice, cheap and for the most part safe way to get around town. Taxis are quite expensive and slow in Cape Town, and the minivans, well ... A Rikkys will pick you up from where you are and drop you off at your destination, but it will also pick up other people. So its a cross between a taxi and a bus basically. The service covers central Cape Town as well as Camps Bay and Clifton.
Sawanoya Ryokan is a family-run budget ryokan/hotel in the Shitamachi area of Tokyo, near Ueno Park. Single rooms are available, at around 5,000 yen per night, double rooms at under 10,000 yen. It's a ryokan, so you sleep on a futon on the floor, and in most cases the bath and toilets are shared. (There are a couple of en suite double rooms.) This is where I always stayed in Tokyo before moving here; it's a budget place but there is absolutely nothing wrong with it; it's clean, the food is good, the location is convenient, and the owners are friendly and speak enough English to communicate. There are also some nice touches, like the wooden trays that breakfast comes on, that give it a bit more class.
www.sawanoya.com/ Address: 2-3-11,Yanaka,Taito-Ku,Tokyo, 110-0001 JAPAN Phone: +81-3-3822-2251 Facsimile: +81-3-3822-2252 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Metro: Nezu, Chiyoda Line. Within walking distance of JR Ueno Station if you are feeling energetic.
A fascinating look into Berlin's tumultuous recent history and its glorious past. The tour takes in all the major landmarks, but what makes it extra special are the superb guides - they are knowledgeable, approachable, friendly and full of interesting anecdotes. They take you off the beaten track, revealing much of what made Berlin such a vast metropolis. You visit hitler's bunker, the largest remaining stretch of the Wall that still stands, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate and the dizzying TV tower. You will never learn so much in 5 hours as you will by taking one of these tours. They are good value, perfectly paced and laden with enough facts to make up for the times you fell asleep during history lessons at school.
Their leaflets are dotted around all Hotel & Hostel lobbies in the City Centre. Just turn up at the meeting point at the correct time, pay around 10 euros and off you go.
A good and most importantly, free view over Central Park is notoriously difficult to come accross, unless you live in an apartment overlooking it. However, on a recent trip, I was delighted to find that the excellent Metropolitan Museum of Art has just such a novelty. Notwithstanding the cornucopia of exhibits to look at there is also a staggering view accross the park towards midtown. Especially good if there's a lightning storm approaching - you can take shelter behind one of the dodgy pieces of 'Modern Art' that are sure to get struck before you do. And they serve Mojitos up there too...
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street. Take 4, 5, or 6 train to 86th Street and walk three blocks west to Fifth Avenue
Market Cafe is a small, unassuming place that's a tad like an institutional canteen but serves gourmet food at great prices. You can easily walk out of this unlikely placed restaurant - that sits just east of the more salubrious areas - spending less than $20 on a first and main course. Try the scallops, which were enormous and delectable on a bed of pureed potatoes and rocket with a burnt butter sauce. They're a steal at around $8.
Market Cafe, 496 Ninth Ave between between 37th and 38th. 212-564- 7350 nearest station 34st-Penn station
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