Monday, February 23, 2009

A Place To Lay Your Head

I have always loved to travel. My parents spent their pre-child days wandering around Europe (college and just post), exploring the backwoods of Mexico and backpacking throughout the Western United States (20s and early 30s). When my sister and I came along they threw us in the car for road trips to National Parks (I think I've been to pretty much all of them west of the Rockies, my first, I believe was Zion when I was two years old), and when we got a bit older we went farther afield (Costa Rica when I was twelve...other than the odd trip to Canada and a day trip or two across the border to Mexico, it was my first international venture).

I was raised to travel so I continued to do so after I left home. It was particularly easy to do in college and grad school, but I always manage to fit in a good trip or two every year even when I am working.

However, with the exception of the odd weekend away, I haven't been out of New York since August, which honestly has me going a bit stir crazy, but also has put me in a nostalgic mood. After flipping through some old photos, guidebooks and the like, I've realized that not only have I been on some fantastic trips, but I've made some really nice discoveries on each one. And after reading Gwyneth's post a few weeks about her favorite hotels (she outed the Beverly Hills Hotel as one of the great gems of Los Angeles, thanks for that insider tip!) I was inspired to share a few of my own choices. They are all relatively cheap, all small, and all independently owned, just the way I like it.

Istanbul, Turkey

Kybele Hotel

My sister and I took a wonderful trip to Istanbul back in 2002, during which we stayed at this eccentric little place.

The Kybele's claim to fame is an obscene number of turkish lamps that hang from ceilings throughout the townhouse. Like, thousands of them, in the breakfast room for example:

A few in one of the sitting rooms:

There are lamps in some of the rooms as well:

The location is wonderful (for us tourists, anyway). It is a short walk to the Blue Mosque, the Haggia Sophia (my favorite of the mosques the city has to offer) and the Topkapi Palace. Not too far from the Grand Bazaar either if I remember correctly. And all of the famous hamams are just a stone's throw away, which is very convenient as you will not want to do much walking (or much of anything really) after being beaten senseless by the giant topless Turkish women who work in these places. By the way, being beaten senseless feels amazing, I highly recommend it.

In addition to having a most charming owner, who also imports rugs...good ones, from what I understand, not the imposters you find on the street in Istanbul, the Kybele also has one of the most amazing breakfasts you will ever have anywhere. The yogurt is beautiful, as are the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the cold cuts, the bread, the jam, the butter, the honey...I get hungry just thinking about it. And for those cereal lovers, they have quite the extensive selection of those as well.

My parents went to Istanbul for the first time last spring and stayed at the Kybele as well. They loved it just as much as we did, so I can only assume that it has held up well over the years. When Robin and I went I believe that it worked out to about $70 per night (I seem to remember that the country was still on the lira at this point), I think my parents ended up paying closer to $120. Either way, the place is a bargain.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Lina's Tango Guesthouse

Zenia and I took a trip down to Buenos Aires in the spring of 2007 and had an amazing time ambling around the city, eating, drinking and shopping for a week. It is a fabulous city...if you love cities, if you love wandering through them and discovering what they have to offer, Buenos Aires is your ideal destination. There weren't many "must sees" which left us free to explore on our own terms, which was exactly what the doctor had ordered for both of us.

Lina's Tango Guesthouse was our home base. What is the deal with the tango part you may ask? Well, Lina, the owner, is apparently a somewhat legendary tango dancer and she has a dance studio in one of the upper floors of the guesthouse. People come from all over to take classes from her, and stay in the guesthouse as they do so. Zenia and I were fairly sure we would be terrible, so skipped that part. Although the locations of various milongas (tango halls, often changing locations each week) were always posted in the front hall, so we went and watched the pros a few times. We became only more sure it was something we had no business attempting this time around.

Anyway, the outside of the place is nothing special. It is in San Telmo, an area that is, shall we say, gentrifying, at the moment. Therefore, the front is sort of fortress-like. Metal bars, metal door. The first time we pulled up Zenia gave me one of those "what have you gotten me into" looks (I get them fairly often from her, but then I deserve them fairly often). But then we walked into this:

...the courtyard where we would enjoy our breakfasts, and where the occasional tango party takes place in the evening. For those wondering, you eat breakfast here if it is raining:

Our room was just off of the courtyard:

Small but charming, and our bathroom was actually freakishly huge. The place is pretty bare TV and you need to do your own breakfast dishes, but this sort of adds to the familial feel of the place. We met some really wonderful people...all women if I remember correctly, many of who either made annual tango pilgrimages or who had retired to Buenos Aires and came by for breakfast and classes. It was a unique look into a community I had no idea existed, and provided a nice extra dimension to the trip.

Now if you like fancy hotels, this is not for you. Make your way over to the Faena if that is your deal. To me, it is the Gansevoort of Buenos Aires (not my favorite place by any stretch), but hey, to each his own.

Lina provides a true guesthouse. You feel, at least temporarily, like a part of a little family. And at $70 a night for the best room in the house, you don't ever worry that your family is ripping you off.

Salvador, Brazil

Pousada do Boqueirao

Kearney, Vivian and Laia and I spent a few weeks down in Brazil last January. Although we liked Salvador very much, of the four places we visited, it was probably our least favorite. I think it is probably one of those places that takes some time to get to know, that is not set up for tourists and thus takes some effort to like, so I do actually want to go back at some point and put in that effort. But weirdly, it was Salvador that I was saddest to leave, due I think to the wonderful accommodations we were forced to abandon.

Pousada do Boqueria is owned by a force of nature named Fernanda. By the look of the Pousada, which is essentially two townhouses on a hill combined, she is a lover of the arts. The airy spaces are filled with pieces, about 70% of which I wanted to take home with me.

The building is largely oriented towards the ocean, which provides a beautiful view to many of the rooms. Our first room was essentially the entire top floor of one of the townhouses that looked out on the ocean. It was, sadly, not air conditioned but there was a decent breeze from the ocean that kept us reasonably cool. And the gorgeous dark woods and mosaic tiles throughout were so wonderfully distracting that I could look past the minor discomfort.

We had to switch rooms the last night, and in exchange for a smaller, air conditioned room, we gained an amazing ocean-oriented terrace:

Me and Vivian taking it all in:

The lower floors of the pousada were no less spectacular. We ate our breakfast here every morning:

And chose from the beautiful buffet of fresh, amazing fruit, breads, cakes and eggs here:

It fortified us for a day of wandering around the neighborhood:

And checking out the local wares:

This is all meat in various forms, if that wasn't obvious. I was unsure why Laia was taking a picture of me in front of it, by way of explanation for my expression.

And as we left what had been a wonderful home for our week in Salvador, Laia, Vivian and I couldn't help but purchase some of the pieces that Fernanda had for sale in her front room. Vivian and I both came away with slightly deranged looked ceramic horse puppets (I to this day am thrilled with the purchase) and Laia bought a papier mache clown, which required quite the packing job:

We named the object Richie, and carried it faithfully into the wilderness of the very remote Pantanal. Here we are, beginning our six hour trip on a dirt road into the wilds of central Brazil. Despite the stunning mosquito situation, it was amazing.

But I digress. At approximately $150 per night for a room that accommodates four, Pousada Boqueirao can absolutely not be beat. It was exactly representative of my idealistic image of Brazil, which is about the highest praise I can offer.


Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Ooo great tips. Turkey is high on my list of places to visit. Thanks!

wambalus said...

Did you get my email about the Florence hotel? I found it.

Rob M. said...

Trips to Canada are not odd.

emel said...

I'm writing from Turkey for the first time.It is amazing for mme to see people say good thingsabout my country. we're not used to it. People should comeand see themselves. I really wondered this hotel inÄ°stanbul. I will deffinitely find it the next tme I go.

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