Rwanda has a prolific supply of religious lodging options for tourists and pilgrims alike. They have pretty consistently been our place of choice considering they tend to be clean, well run, and inexpensive. In Kibuye, we lucked out when we found Home Saint Jean tucked away at the end of a peninsula behind the Genocide Memorial Church (many churches in Rwanda became massacre sights as people flocked there for security and instead became sitting ducks for the genocidaires – in the region around Kibuye this was definitely the case).
The hotel offers 270 degrees of views over the lake, a restaurant and huge balcony for sitting under the stars and debating the meaning of life. Ask for room 14 and you get a corner room surrounded by water. In the evening the moon rises right over the balcony. And from the doorway you can watch the storms roll over the hills and down into the lake.
I would have expected a plaque or a statue, or maybe just a big painted sign, something to mark our arrival at the most western point in Africa. Instead, we walked into a string of small grills and lovely ladies in brightly colored batiks. Here the fresh catch of the day is the only special. You want to order it paired with fries or rice and a delicious yassa (spiced onion) sauce. Add a Gazelle and you have all the welcome you need.
Looking out to the west.
I have to begin this with a disclaimer – I am a sucker for pretty textiles. If there was ever a hotel that fed on that weakness it is the Siki Hotel in Saint Louis. Charming, spotlessly clean, and chocked full of gorgeous Western African batik fabrics (on the beds, the chairs, the lamps, and the walls), this place is a textile lover’s dream. Add to that a romantic setting, bright courtyard, super friendly service, and great restaurant and you just know it has to be favorite find. Next time, I am staying for a week!
Check out those pillows and that chair back – see what I mean about awesome textiles.
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Nestled onto the top of a ridge overlooking the hills that lead to Kathmandu in east and Pokhara in the west is the small Newari town of Banidpur. Walking into town, which you must do because all the roads to the main square are littered with staircases, you get the feeling that you are walking back in time. Not too far back, there is still running water and electricity most of the time, but back enough. Beautifully dressed ladies can be seen leaning out the small carved wooden windows, while the men talk business in the cafés and the kids and chickens play in the streets. If it wasn’t for the single internet café on the square, you would think time had stood still here for the last 50 years.
The hills around Bandipur are littered with gorgeous vistas and winding trails, the restaurant menus with fresh thukpa soup, momos, dal bhat, and their tables with candle light for the nights with no power. Cobble stone streets lead you in and out of town and concrete buildings are still happily in the minority. The temples take you back to a time when Nepal was still ruled by kings and queens.
If you’re over the super touristy feel of the bigger cities, this is the place to come. Take a few days. Go for a walk. Talk politics. Enjoy the architecture. Sit in the square and let the school kids in their blue uniforms rush around you like a wave. Soak it all in now, because this place is so good, that it too will be super touristy before long.
Considering I ate here 5 times in 3 days, it’s a pretty solid favorite find. Hidden in a little alley in the old part of Fort Cochin, this café offers the best salads and soups I’ve had in India and a pleasant dose of local art. The tables, many made of old sewing machine stands and each with their own fan, meander through a series of open sided rooms and courtyards. The feeling is magical and the butter oatmeal will convince you to come back again for breakfast tomorrow.
I am usually a proponent of sunsets, enjoying the last lingering light on the horizon that fades away into a blanket of stars and the promise of dinner conversations and new beginnings to come after the night. Sunrises don’t have the same effect for me, however in Kodaikanal (standing on the balcony at the Greenlands Youth Hostel), I have found the exception.
On a day with few clouds
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It is not titled this way, but this is without doubt a favorite find.
La Dolce Vita
From this angle you might question the quality of La Dolce Vita’s pizza. Thoughts like… “maybe they put masala in the sauce?”, “perhaps the cheese is made with yak milk?”, or “is the crust really just a roti with improvised toppings?”… might pop into your head. But behind that sign is a real brick oven and in the kitchen there is the echo of beautiful northern Italian accents. Yes, the vino is only Goan, but the menu, sauces, and service are full fledged Italian. In the small town of Agonda, where almost every restaurant has the same menu, the culinary options here are a quick breath of fresh air.
When a man from the Middle East comes to visit and brings sweets from his favorite Middle Eastern sweet shop, and that sweet shop happens to be right around the corner from your house, you have to take note. That is how I found Al Sham.
Nestled among a street full of hooka bars and Halal grocers, this unpretentious little shop offers melt-in-your mouth baklava, delicious date cookies, and creamy chocolate dipped cashew straws. Trust me, it is worth the ride to Queens.