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31

May

On the road: Have yourself a Rumpus

'Is my tail wonky?' I find myself staring at the behind of a man dressed as a tiger wearing the tail of a fox. I consider this for a moment. 'Wonky? Well, a little.' I make a slight adjustment and send the tiger fox on his way. I need to get back to the important matter of considering my own tail, before I end up with a serious case of tail envy. We're in the Tall Tail corner of a warehouse in London's Islington where you can buy yourself a tail to match your outfit for the night. But zebra or dragon? These are the sort of obscure questions you find yourself asking at Rumpus, probably one of the best roving parties in London right now.

I call it a roving party, because it doesn’t fall under the bracket of club night. “We think a good party is about more than cramming people onto a dance floor and playing music at them,” they say, and that they definitely do. With six rooms of different shenanigans they have music covering genres as diverse as gypsy folk to electro - even a DIY kazoo band (see below) - as well as performances of everything from contortionists to miracle-makers, all orchestrated at the breakneck pace of pandemonium. It is a Rumpus in the truest sense of the word. A fanciful commotion. It’s a ballyhoo and a bluster, a foofawar and a furore, a hoo-ha and a zoo. Literally a zoo this time, as the theme and dress code for the night is ‘Carnival of the Animals’. 

As we wait in the queue three giant burlesque rabbits on stilts that look like a cross between Donnie Darko’s nemesis and Dita Von Teese stalk the line preparing you for the madness that awaits just beyond the door. A sign announces in big bold letters: ‘FUN TIMES. INSTANT ENJOYMENT.’ It’s silly, but it’s true.

As we walk in an aerial trapeze artist with feathers in her hair swings above our heads, and a band of alien animals are playing classical strings with a punk twist. The psychedelic giraffe is lost in concentration on the cello while the panda on keys looks terribly sad. Someone in Beetlejuice trousers is handing out candy floss and in the next room the crowds are dancing to the most hip-twitching rockabilly. It’s like walking in on the Animals of Raving Wood.

If you haven’t come dressed up you get charged an extra GBD 2 on the door from the usual price of GBP 17. It’s like a Fun Tax; you’re penalised for not letting loose. Costumes range from the miraculous to the makeshift. You get just as much recognition for a shark styled out of cardboard boxes as you would for transforming yourself into a unicorn. Some wonderfully pretty zebra princesses will paint your face or style your hair if you don’t feel the part. In the outside world you worry about looking silly, but once inside the only thing to worry about is not looking silly enough.

That’s the wonderful thing about this night. It’s about rediscovering an inner playfulness. It’s something that has been happening for years in England, which has seen the popularity of music festivals like Cambridgeshire’s Secret Garden Party and Isle of Wight’s Bestival soar. People want the opportunity to dress up and play. And it’s not just a few people; Rumpus alone attracts over 1000 - in October they are expanding to a 2000-capacity venue - and a music festival like Secret Garden Party has grown from 1000 people in 2004 to around 30,000 now selling out months in advance. Playfulness doesn’t necessarily mean harking back to childhood; just back to the lack of inhibitions that make it perfectly acceptable to sword fight using your animal tails like two cats chasing each other in circles. In centre of the electro room is a giant ball pit where the animals are going in two-by-two. This is where I find myself. Emerged up to my neck while throwing multi-coloured balls at a confused clown, safe in the knowledge this sort of behaviour is not just encouraged, but downright good fun.  

Tickets are still available for Rumpus Vol. 10: A Very Royal Jubilee on June 1, after which they will be gallivanting around the UK festivals this summer.  

Tyler@GuidePal in London

21

May

Review: Residenza Arco de’ Tolomei

I am stood outside a grand medieval door on a winding cobbled lane in Trastevere. It is early morning, and the streets are empty except one old lady who has emerged from her house to yawn and smoke a cigarette. A postman comes past and they stop to chat. In these early hours, before the town wakes up and the tourists arrive, it is possible to believe you’re still in a Rome of yesteryear. I’m looking for Guesthouse Arco de’ Tolomei, but there is no sign on the door or any indication that this might be a bed-and-breakfast. I’m at the right number though, so I ring the bell and the door clicks open. 

A winding marble staircase leads me up three floors, and I knock. As soon as I enter, the serenity of the outside world changes. It’s like walking into the rush and buzz of a family getting ready to go on holiday; like I’ve walked into someone’s home, not a hotel. There’s no traditional reception area; just the front room - or chamber room - stuffed full of antiques. It isn’t done in that interior design over-styled effect, but looks more like years of accumulation. There are deep green velvet chairs, books precariously stacked on shelves and a beautiful 17th-century writing table. It is cozy rather than formal. 

Owner Marco Fè d’Ostiani emerges and greets me. He is exactly the charming, dapper Italian gentleman that you imagine would run a bijou guesthouse in this bohemian district. He apologises for the chaos; a large family that had the top floor had got their flight times wrong, and he is helping them change their plans. He is a beacon of calm amidst their fretting, knowing which numbers to call and what needs to be done. 

I take a look around while he tends to them. The sunny dining room, in the softest shade of eggshell blue, is decorated with oil canvases and a chandelier sparkles above the grand wooden table. French doors lead out onto the patio in dappled shade from the wisteria crawling its way along the trellis. Lemon and orange trees are growing in terracotta pots. Marco returns with a key, and after a quick chat, he says my room will be ready at midday. 

Set in medieval Trastevere, Arco de’ Tolomei is on the eastern side away from the hub of the nighttime drinking ruckus around Piazza Santa Maria yet only a short walk from everything you might want. Head straight over ancient Tiber bridge via Tiber Island, into the Jewish Ghetto, and then onwards to Campo De Fiori. That makes a perfect 20-minute stroll through Roman history, or four hours if you stop to listen to an old man play accordion next to the Portico d’Ottavia, meander through the boutiques along Via dei Giubbonari and then go for a big bowl of spaghetti at a traditional trattoria. 

In the end I didn’t return to the hotel until after dinner. I let myself in with my keys, and total calm had been restored. I called “hello” tentatively and had no answer. No one was in. Marco had indicated which room would be mine when we spoke earlier, so again I just let myself in. This is the opposite of being a client in a hotel. It is like going to stay with your aristocratic academic uncle for the weekend, who wants you to make yourself perfectly at home. 

Each room is individually decorated with antiques passed down through the family for generations; Marco’s family have lived in Trastevere for as long as it stretches back. The rooms have the feel of an Old British country house with floral wallpaper, gold gilded mirrors and dark wooden furniture. There are books and flowers too. In contrast, the bathrooms are completely modern - each room comes with a private bath - and there is TV and wifi. 

In the morning, Marco greets me at breakfast, and he and his wife join me for a coffee at the long communal table. We talk about his pensione. “I don’t want it to be a hotel where no one talks to each other. I want it to feel like a home. This is my home, and I love having guests here.” I pick his brains for restaurant recommendations, and he gives me a list of names all within easy walking distance. “No one wants to travel too far after big meal, at least I know I don’t,” he says, which couldn’t be truer. 

All the time, the lovely maid makes sure there is always hot coffee on the table and the jug of fresh juice is full. Other guests wake up and join us until we’re all talking together. The spread of bread, cheese and meats is delicious, but the star of the show is by far Marco’s homemade polenta lemon cake. He makes his own jams too, which no one can quite stop eating. Sat around the long table in the early morning sunshine of Rome, chatting and laughing over breakfast with a group of people like you might do with your own family, is exactly what makes this utterly charming guesthouse stand out from the rest. 

Residenza Arco de’ Tolomei, Via Arco de’ Tolomei 27, +39 06 583 20819, doubles from €144 B&B

The new Hotels section to the GuidePal Rome City Guide is coming soon.

Tyler@GuidePal in Rome 


09

May

Top five: Copenhagen bars

Denmark’s capital is famous for its food scene, but its drink isn’t half bad, either – and we don’t just mean the Carlsberg. Here are our five favourite places to get soused, Scandi-style.

1. Karriere

The project of artist Jeppe Hein, this Kødbyn bar has contemporary art on the brain. We’re not just talking about work on the walls: here, the pieces of furniture are gallery-worthy, such as the lamps currently on display, each commissioned from an international artist. Even the confusing lay-out of the toilets is a conceptual joke. Those not into art might think it sounds rather pretentious and, well, maybe it is. But it’s also original and great fun: the cocktails and music are excellent; and the young, trendy crowd appealing to gaze at. 

Karriere, Flæsketorvet 57-67

2. Jolene

If you want to join the younger Danes at play try this louche Meatpacking District spot, popular with a fashion-conscious, student-age crowd: the kind who might be photographed on the street by style magazines. Owned by two Icelandic women and housed underground in a former slaughterhouse, Jolene is wildly cool in a laidback, down-and-dirty way. Leave your high heels at home and order bottles of beer and tequila shots rather than a martini, as a sign above the bar helpfully reminds you, ‘this is not a f***ing cocktail bar’. And yes, it is named after the Dolly Parton song – although the music policy leans more towards electronica and hip hop. 

Jolene, Flæsketorvet 94

3. Ruby

Opened in 2007, Ruby was one of the first bars in Copenhagen to take cocktails really seriously and has remained at the front of the pack. The venue itself is pretty special: an unmarked apartment in a canal-side, 18th century building, filled with antiques and Chesterfield sofas, that manages to be both grand and homely. And unlike some venues in Copenhagen it’s not painfully cool, but rather larky and welcoming. Cocktails range from the classic to the seasonal and avant-garde: we recommend Ruby’ s own invention, the Rapscallion, a Scottish version of the Manhattan with Talisker whisky, which has made it onto the list at hip New York bar PDT.

Ruby, Nybrogade 10

4. Kitjn

Located off the beaten track in residential Osterbro, Kitjn has to work harder to win custom than the city-centre bars, so the fact that it’s constantly buzzing is testament to its impeccable cocktails (rum-based, mainly) and relaxed, good-natured atmosphere. And, perhaps, the fact that it’s got a really nice indoor smoking room. The decor is simple but effective, with bare-brick walls, sofas, and a glimpse of the kitchen out back from which the bar takes it name. No food is served but, cheekily, the cocktail menu is arranged under Starters, Main Courses, and Desserts. 

Kitjn, Arhusgade 14

5. 1105

This downtown joint is stylish in the extreme, the place to go if you want to feel like you’re in an expensive spirits advert. The striking interior features black walls and a long black bar, behind which men in immaculate white jackets create classy concoctions for a well-off, 30-something crowd. Mixologist Hardeep Rehal takes his job very seriously indeed, and has triumphed at the Danish Cocktail Championships with concoctions such as his Cucumber Yum Yum, whose bright red colour belies the cool cucumber taste.  We’re sure it counts as one of your five a day. 

1105, Kristen Bernikows Gade 4

Lottie@Guidepal

For more, check out our newly updated Copenhagen guide. 

02

May

On the road: The first sign of spring in Stockholm

I’ve been told that you’ll never forget your first winter in Stockholm; the bitterly cold days slide into night, quickly becoming indistinguishable; the slush phase when it’s not quite cold enough for the snow to stick and everything is grey, followed finally by the sublime calm that comes when the snow settles. 

People have come up with all sorts of survival tactics, ranging from strict exercise routines to candlelit nights baking Kanelbullar - cinnamon rolls - and even sunlight simulators that wake you up ‘naturally’ in the morning. But when I asked a Swedish friend about this, she told me that what really makes the difference is planning. 

‘Finding the time to go outside on your lunch break when there’s still sunlight during winter, and planning your dinner parties or holidays months ahead; it’s about survival more than anything, about having something to look forward to.’ 

This made all the more sense when I by chance walked past Kungsträdgården Park, and saw streams of people gathered under the cherry trees, which had burst into bloom overnight, creating candy floss pick canopies along both sides of the park. I was struck by the euphoria that surrounded the occasion, but I later learned that for the week that the trees are in bloom, coming to pose with the flowers, or admiring them from one of the sun drenched café terraces is a much awaited event, and a sign of the shifting seasons. 

Enjoying the good mood that everyone was in, I meandered my way through the city center to the pretty cobbled streets of the old town Gamla Stan. In the space of about a week, the population seemed to have doubled, as if after the long winter everyone had come out of hibernation to make the most of every moment of blessed sunshine. The bars and restaurants near the water had opened outside seating which was full of locals dressed in their spring glad rags and Ray Bans. Those who hadn’t managed to snag a seat were sitting on the water’s edge with their feet dangling over, or even standing on the pavement facing the sun, mesmerised, as if it had paralyzed them mid-walk.

I sat for a while, before heading down to Ridderholmen, one of the locations around the city where the spring celebration known as Valborg is held on the eve of the first of May. When I got there, the little islet and all the balconies and walk ways above were crammed. As the light began to fade, a horn instrument sounded bringing a new energy to the air; people started shuffling about, anxiously chattering and chewing on long licorice sticks. 

I became buried in the masses for a while, until I managed to weave my way through the crowds to find a fire in the centre wildly dancing in the wind. The choir began to sing, joined by some braver members of the public, followed by speeches and culminating in an enthusiastic cheer spreading through the crowds. 

As I left, I walked past the City Hall’s iconic tower surrounded by a halo of grapefruit glowing light on the opposite shore, and thought how even as time passes, societies progress and scientific breakthroughs are made, fundamentally we will always be at the whim of our natural environment. 

Natalie@GuidePal in Stockholm 

Download our free city guide to Stockholm

25

Apr

On the road: Athens after the storm

Riots, political chaos and escalating uncertainty dominated our view of Greece in 2011, and with the economy still in crisis, GuidePal visited Athens to see how the land lies for visitors. 

‘Over there! That’s where the tear gas started,’ a friend pointed out. I recognised it from watching the news back home in London. Through the safety of the TV screen, I had witnessed men flee this very spot with streaming eyes and others frantically put out the flames climbing up their clothes. 

But on this sunny day in Syntagma Square there was no fire, gas or violence. Just some steps leading up to Parliament, now clean and empty, and two men in white tights and pleated skirts with red pom poms on their shoes doing some sort of slow motion quasi- aggressive can-can. 

These are the Evzones, the elite soldiers of the Presidential Guard who stand in front of Parliament guarding the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. They stand here every day, and on the hour they do their coordinated march. If you stand in their way, they are allowed to march-kick you with their tsarouchia, the pom pom shoes, which weigh 3kg each and have a pointed edge. Pictures of the Evzones with tears in their eyes from the gas emerged after the riots. I can’t help but wonder if they march-kicked the first few rioters, before they were relieved from duty. It seems they did not. 

I was in Athens to work with our local experts on GuidePal’s Athens City Guide. When I booked my flights in October, at the height of the economic crisis, I thought this will either be the worst time possible to see the city – prices inflated and tension on the streets – or the most interesting, with bargains to be had and change in the air. 

I emerged from the metro and walked to my hotel. My map guided me up a heavily graffitied street, where street people were selling bric-a-brac on the pavement. It seemed an unusual location for what was the charming and chic O&B boutique hotel, one of the new breed of trendy Athenian hot spots to have opened before the recession. But this was just the first of the many contrasts I encountered in Athens that makes it so unique; none more striking than between the violence I had witnessed on TV back home and the city I was experiencing firsthand. 

I do the same thing in every city I visit. I start at one end and walk to the other, the only way to get a feel for a place. The cobbled streets of pretty Plaka with its overpriced tourist tat shops were empty. Unsurprisingly, many weekend-breakers have been put off, which for someone who doesn’t like camera-snapping crowds, is a good thing. But as I continued through Monasteraki up to studentville of Exarchia, where many of the young protest groups are based, the atmosphere changed. The cafes were buzzing, the restaurants full and the bars overflowing. These weren’t tourists, but young, cool Athenians.

Sitting down for a jug of rakomelo – hot grappa softened with honey – I listened to the political debate going on behind me. They were talking about the relative degree of corruption between their government and the troika, as they call the EU leaders. I’m sure many across Athens were having similar conversations. For anyone with political leanings, this is a very interesting place to be right now. 

Talking to young Greeks they waver between a determination to fight it out for Greece’s right to be amongst the modern prosperous countries of Europe, and a tragic despair for the future. Nowhere was this split more evident than in the city’s prolific graffiti. When Byron marked his name on Temple of Poseidon over two centuries ago, he clearly started a trend. Like a mind map to the nation’s thoughts, every surface engages in debate, and other surfaces answer back. A stone bench and a wall by the Acropolis carry the anarchists symbol and the imperatives, ‘Eat the rich!’ and ‘Profit = Theft!’ Another back street off touristville is illustrated with murals and the message, ‘I don’t cry for you Papandreou, and Greece will never miss you.’ Graffiti is a medium to empower the people. One image plays on this with a hooded youth, giving the finger alongside the words, ‘My spraycan, your molotov.’ 

The change in society is palpable. Of course, it had to happen. It is happening as I write. I noticed it in things like how the up-market restaurants were empty while the local tavernas were overflowing. ‘Everyone has to cut back, but people will still go out,’ Matt Barrett, who has lived in Athens for over 40-years and runs website GreekTravel.com told me.

‘Tavernas and restaurants are becoming souvlaki joints, so it costs EUR 10 a head rather than EUR 30. The price of coffee in the fancy cafes has dropped, and the cheap places are more popular. The expensive restaurants used to do a EUR 500,000 revamp once a year. Now they’ll have to live with the same décor, and hope people value substance over style. This may start to happen on every level of commerce, and I think it is a good thing.’

The Greece Matt describes is one adapting albeit begrudgingly to a new economic imperative. 

That Sunday, George Papandreou announced his resignation. I found out while buying an ice cream. I had ordered mastic, a herb unique to the island of Chios, and the ice-cream man also George insisted I try it first, because it’s an acquired taste. It was that sort of friendliness I experienced throughout the city regardless of the world crumbling around us. 

For my last meal before boarding the metro home, I went to a small taverna in the local community of Ano Petralona. Ikonomou has been serving traditional Greek food since 1920. I was the only English-speaking customer in the packed restaurant, and they were more than welcoming. With no menu available, I was taken into the kitchen to point at what I wanted. The food was delicious and dessert was free. I ate enough for a family and my bill came to less than EUR 15. Finishing off my jug of wine, I thought this taverna was here back when Greece was poor. It still survived when Greece became rich, and I imagine whatever happens next, it’s not going anywhere fast, which filled me the some sort of optimism.

I got to thinking about why we travel. I don’t travel necessarily to have a good time otherwise I wouldn’t find myself trekking for days through the jungle in torrential rain. I don’t travel to find myself either; if anything I travel to lose myself, preferably in another culture and another way of life. Visiting Athens right now, you may not see the glittering city of a more prosperous decade, but it is a city in the midst of historic change, and it’s times like these in which you encounter another civilisation at its most real and fascinating.

Tyler@GuidePal in Athens

Photos by Samuel Roberts

Download our free guide to Athens here

18

Apr

Top Five: Chicago Food Experiences

World-renowned restaurants, one-of-a-kind fast food and some of the best fresh produce in the US make Chicago a gastronomical wonderland. Here are five essential Windy City food stops, as profiled in our brand new Chicago guide.

Next

Next is Chicago’s newest superstar restaurant, and it’s been making the earth move for foodies since it opened in 2011. You cannot walk in. You cannot reserve a seat. You have to buy a ticket, as if to a Broadway performance, and prices vary depending on the time and day of the week. The restaurant is co-owned by Grant Achatz, the man behind Chicago’s three-Michelin-starred Alinea, and the food is world-class to match. The themed menu changes every few months: early iterations included ‘Paris 1906’, ‘Thai street food’, ‘Winter’, and ‘Childhood’. This is theatrical, terrific - and terrifically expensive - food. 

Next, 953 West Fulton Market. Set menu: USD 140-500. 

Spacca

Chicago is mad about pizza. This is a city that has given birth to not one but three styles (stuffed crust, deep dish, and the crunchy Chicago thin-style), and arguments over which local pizza joint is supreme rage on and on, with everyone you ask naming a different favorite. Our suggestion? Side-step the argument altogether and come to Spacca to enjoy probably the town’s finest Napolitan-style pizza: fluffy and thin-based, with authentic Italian toppings like spinach, artichokes, and prosciutto. It’s a boisterous place and often full, and even defenders of Chicago’s homegrown styles happily admit that Spacca makes a mean pizza. 

Spacca, 1769 W Sunnyside. Pizza: USD 9-16. 

Chicago Diner

Don’t be fooled by the name - this place has been ‘meat free since ‘83’ and serves comfort food without the grease or gunk. Based in Boystown, the heart of the Lakeview LGBT community, this popular place fills up with veggies and open-minded carnivores who come for juicy seitan and tofu burgers; huge salads crammed with greens, sprouts, and seeds; and a brunch menu of free-range eggs, soups, and pancakes. 

Chicago Diner, 3411 N Halsted Street. Entrees: USD 8–16. 

Lincoln Park Farmers Market

Producers from the fertile agricultural areas outside Chicago’s city limits congregate at this farmer’s market in Lincoln Park to sell their fresh wares to the urban masses. Illinois is the second biggest agricultural exporter in the US, and much of the USD 4 billion in exported goods comes from small, family-run operations like the ones featured here. Expect fresh vegetables like beans, squashes, and tomatoes; artisan cheeses; fresh-cut and planted flowers; breads and cakes; preserves; cured and raw meats; and cider. If the sight of all that food makes you hungry, there’s plenty to eat on-site, including crepes, sandwiches, and fresh smoothies. 

Lincoln Park Farmers Market, Lincoln Park High School parking lot (Armitage Avenue and Orchard Street). 

Hot Doug’s

Hot Doug is a local legend and here at his ‘encased meat emporium’ the eponymous chef takes his love of the humble hot dog to extremes. Try the Chicago-style, kosher all-beef weiner with pickle and onions, or celebrity-themed dogs such as the spicy Anna Kendrick, the smoked Polish sausage Elvis, or the meat-free Joe Strummer. But it’s eye-opening and potentially unbelievable specials such as spicy alligator sausage with Cajun shrimp mayonnaise, chardonnay and jalapeno rattlesnake sausage with berry-currant mustard, and foie gras and sauternes duck sausage with truffle aioli that lift Hot Doug’s from gimmickry into haute cuisine. 

Hot Doug’s, 3324 North California Avenue. Hot dogs: USD 3-8. 


Michael Parker in Chicago


For more recommendations, check out GuidePal’s Chicago city guide

11

Apr

On the road: Horse markets in Dublin

I’ve been to Dublin several times before. The first was in the late nineties, not long after the Celtic Tiger had swaggered into view and U2’s hotel, The Clarence, was the swankiest place in town – indeed, the only really swanky place in town – with a sighting of Andrea Corr and/or Robbie Williams pretty much guaranteed in the room rate.

The last time was a couple of years ago, when I barely noticed the city at all. I was there to meet a boyfriend’s family for the first time, and was so concerned about the impression I was making that I wouldn’t have noticed if the statue of Phil Lynott at St. Stephen’s Green had come to life and performed for me a personalised medley of Thin Lizzy hits.

This time, I had no such distractions, and was determined to get a measure of noughties Dublin. As we all know, the Tiger has since sloped out of Ireland, leaving destruction in its wake, but the capital’s centre doesn’t appear too crippled. Shoppers cram down Grafton Street like migrating salmon, a wealth of coffee shops indicates a buoyant market for EUR 3 flat whites and, in the posh Georgian district, businessmen emerge merry from long, expense-account lunches. The city’s trademark conviviality is still evident: those tiny transactions you have dozens of times a day are noticeably more good-natured here than in other capital cities.

Of course, however bad an economic downturn there will always be rich people, and a city’s commercial centre often isn’t representative of the place as a whole - particularly so in such a compact, well-visited place as Dublin. Its centre is populated with non-Irish, be they students, Guinness-soaked stag parties singing along to the buskers or tourists getting their photos taken in front of Molly Malone’s exposed bronze bosom. 

However, not much effort is needed to see a different side of the city. The working class Liberties neighbourhood is right next to touristy Temple Bar yet appears barely touched by gentrification, whilst other areas, particularly on the north of the river, feel halfway through the process, resulting in an interesting juxtaposition of the traditional and the new.

It was during a Sunday morning walk through the Smithfield district on the northern side of the Liffey that I came across the horse market. I knew that the area had been famous for its equine fairs but believed that they had been phased out since the regeneration. However, as I passed, I noticed a police presence, and then heard an unmistakable whinny. 

It was, admittedly, a small gathering, but a striking one nonetheless: in Smithfield’s large cobbled plaza, surrounded by million-euro flats, empty office units and a sizeable contingent of bored-looking police, were around twenty horses. Most were small, scruffy ponies in the charge of those I believe are known as ‘urban cowboys’: tracksuited men too big for their steeds and whose attire and conduct – cantering on hard ground, no hats - would certainly not pass muster with The Pony Club.

I discovered that, despite attempts by authorities and animal protection agencies to close down the markets, an ancient by-law meant that people were still entitled to trade at Smithfield, and these gatherings occasionally sprang up. Horses were often sold very cheaply, and not in good health, hence the controversy.

As I watched the proceedings, along with a small group of passers-by, into the motley crowd rode a pretty young woman on a magnificent Dutch Friesian stallion. They could have been from a different planet: thoroughbred, perfectly groomed, ready for the Horse of the Year Show. Dazzled, I approached and asked if I could take her picture; she agreed, and explained that she was here not to sell her splendid beast but to advertise it for breeding purposes.

A while later, as I continued on my way, I thought how the scene seemed a good portrait of contemporary Dublin. And also, how, by approaching the woman for a photo rather than one of the men, I had fallen prey to the common temptation when exploring cities – to favour the good-looking and smart over the scruffy and modest, when it’s often in the latter that you find the real story.  

Lottie@GuidePal in Dublin. 

04

Apr

Review: Carib Kreol, Malmö, Sweden

On our first glance in, the restaurant was completely empty. My foodie companion and I were beginning to doubt just how delicious this place could be. One of the top picks from our Malmö local expert, Carib Kreol is a Caribbean-inflected eatery and bar buried in the backstreets of hip neighbourhood Möllevang. The fact that it was surrounded by brutalist concrete housing blocks - an unfortunate hangover from a socialist state housing scheme in the 60s - and its neighbours were a casino and less-than-swanky bar didn’t really help matters. But it was still early and the local experts’ promise of barbecued meat and cocktails made with fresh ginger and coconut, not to mention the straw canopied bar strewn with tropical fruits that we had spotted through the window, was too alluring to miss out on.  

As we wandered the backstreets of Möllevang munching on pistachios from a small Arab foods store to bide our time until the restaurant filled up, I thought how unlike the rest of Sweden this city felt. Here, immigrant-owned corner shops stood alongside boho-chic bars and clubs right in the city centre, and there was a broader diversity of cultures and styles of people. Most of all, it was the worn down, ramshackle air; the advertising posters peeling at the edges and the dirty, pothole-ridden streets that made the city feel more lived in, more real even. 

We returned, too hungry to wait longer, but there were only a few more diners: a trio of dolled up  girls sipping mojitos on the woven sofas along the window filled with overgrown plants and the owner’s friends chatting at the bar. We were seated at one of the regular wooden tables (sadly, the one under the parasol had been reserved), and were handed some hand drawn menus by the waitress who had a voice fit for relaxation tape. 

I recognized the Acees - Caribbean fritters - so we went for them as a starter and got some Red Stripe in while we mulled over the mains. After a short wait, we were served a basket of steaming pillows of shredded root vegetables, which on their own were admittedly tasteless, but came with incredible habanero chili, mango aioli and avocado dips. We devoured them, searing our tongues in the process.

The list of mains ranged from Caribbean classics - jerk with potato wedges - to the more intrepid - vegan stew with pumpkin and plantain. I was on strict instructions to get the ribs (as were most of the customers apparently) and we got the Mahi Mahi fish for variation. Perhaps it was the thirty-five minute wait and resulting famished delirium that influenced us, but the ribs looked spectacular and tasted even better; a bulky rack of meat dripping with guava and chili marinade accompanied by a well-seasoned dollop of sweet potato puree. They were so good that after a quick glance around the room, my companion decided to go at it barbarian style, tearing off pieces of succulent meat dipped in ginger sauce.

My pan fried slice of flaky fish left no complaints, except the desire for a bigger cut, and was drizzled in a tart but sweet tamarind sauce. Sadly, the cold slab of mushed vegetables left me drooling over the julienne carrots, saffron rice and pomegranate seeds that our neighbour had with his perfectly-charred jerk chicken. I know what I’ll be ordering next time.

Still, the food was rich and filling so we skipped dessert and went for Caribbean coffee instead; actually, warm rum cleverly disguised with enough whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles to make it look like a children’s dessert. When we were told that a Brazilian band was coming on soon, we ordered some cocktails and spent the evening wishing ourselves away to an island paradise. We left feeling sweaty and exhausted from the dancing, but inspired by the exotic experience in the middle of an industrial town in Sweden.

Need to know:

Amazing glazing ribs: SEK 158

Caribbean coffee: SEK 78

Mahi-Mahi fish with tamarind, sweet potato: SEK 168

Open: Mon-Thu: 6pm - 1am, Fri-Sat: 4pm - 1am

Carib Kreol, Claesgatan 11, +46 40 96 55 05

Natalie@GuidePal in Malmö

The Malmö City Guide will be out next week. 

29

Mar

Top Five: Boutique hotels in Istanbul

With our new guide to Istanbul out now, we have compiled our favourite boutique bolt-holes in the historic capital. 

1. The House Hotel Galatasaray

Istanbul’s trendy House Café transformed a dilapidated 19th century building into a design buff’s dream. The 20 spacious rooms make you feel less like a hotel guest and more like the owner of a swanky urban apartment. Cool, calm and contemporary, they mix gleaming white walls and polished parquet floors with retro chandeliers, dark-wood furniture and sleek sofas. And the ultra-modern rainforest showers in the bedrooms are especially daring. The top-floor lounge is perfect for post sight-seeing relaxation with grand Chesterfields, an open fire and stunning views, and the narrow streets of Çukurcuma are a treasure trove of antique shops and vintage stores with Beyoğlu, the city’s party central, just around the corner. 

House Hotel Galatasaray, Bostanbasi Caddesi 19, +90 212 252 0422, doubles start at €159.


2. A’jia Hotel

This off-the-beaten track yali - a waterfront Ottoman mansion - has been an army barracks, a private residence and a primary school, before its current guise as an ultra-modern boutique hotel hiding behind the ornate, dazzling 19th-century white façade. The sleek rooms are a minimalist mix of white walls, dark-wood floors, glass, steel, and pale marble, but its the views that really wow. Located in the Bosphorus village of Kanlica, you can live the high life by making your way to sight-seeing central Sultanahmet on the hotel’s private yacht.

A’jia Hotel, Cubuklu Caddessi 27, +90 216 413 9300, double rooms from €227 per night


3. Hotel Ibrahim Pasha

This smart but wallet-friendly option in the centre of Sultanahmet is conveniently close to all the sights, but away from the crowds down a quiet street. The rooms and public spaces are an artful blend of Ottoman opulence and contemporary cool, with bedrooms decked out with ornate bed covers and traditional Turkish carpets on the polished wooden floors. You can relax in the library, admiring the carefully chosen paintings and antiques as a log fire roars at your feet. But the hotel’s trump card is at the top of a spiral staircase. The roof terrace, covered in striking tiles, has an unbeatable front-seat view of the iconic Blue Mosque.

Hotel Ibrahim Pasha, Terzihane Sokak 5, Sultanahmet, +90 212 518 0394, doubles from €89 B&B


4. Hotel Empress Zoe

Just a stone’s throw from the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, you’ll be woken each morning by the mesmerising call to prayer. Made up of five separate Ottoman-style houses, it’s a warren of charming rooms reached by a narrow spiral staircase, hidden courtyards and terraces. There’s no mistaking where you are, from the colourful kilims that adorn the walls, to the marble-style Turkish baths in some of the rooms. Attached to the crumbling remains of a 15th century hamam, it creates a rather special stone-walled garden, perfect for a post-sightseeing drink. Or settle in front of the log fire in the cosy breakfast room on cooler evenings.

Hotel Empress Zoe, Akbiyik Caddesi 10, Sultanahmet, +90 212 518 2504, doubles €120 B&B


5. Sirkeci Konak

Set in the Sirkeci neighbourhood, right next door to Sultanahmet, this modern reproduction of a traditional konak, or Ottoman wooden house, is close to all the major sights. The family-run hotel is big on local character: traditional hanging brass lamps, carved wooden beds, original artwork and brightly-coloured kilims, and an open-air terrace overlooks Gülhane Park, a green oasis from the hustle and bustle of the old city. Its bijoux indoor plunge pool is a bonus in summer, while the Turkish bath and sauna are additional treats. The hotel also offers complimentary wine and cheese tastings, cooking classes and a session of raki and traditional meze.

Sirkeci Konak, Taya Hatun Sokak 5, Gulhane, +90 212 528 4344, doubles from €170 B&B

Discover more of Istanbul with our free city guide available here.

From Sarah Gilbert in Istanbul.

07

Mar

Travel like a local: Miami

Lauren Mack, GuidePal Local Expert and Freelance Travel Writer: Miami

If you could only eat in one restaurant in Miami, which would it be?

It’s hard to choose just one but Versailles tops my list. Whether I want to start my day with hot and toasty Cuban bread slathered with butter and a strong café con leche (Cuban coffee with milk) or tuck into a hearty dinner of arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and mariquitas with mojo (crispy plantain strips with garlic and lime sauce), the bustling Cuban cantina has me covered from morning until night.

What area of Miami gets overlooked by visitors?

Since there’s not a lot of shopping or dining on Key Biscayne, it is often overlooked by visitors, which is fine with locals and me. When I want to get away from it all without having to actually leave Miami, I go to Key Biscayne to play tennis on the same courts as pro tennis players at Crandon Park or go swimming at Bill Braggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area on the southern tip of Key Biscayne.

Which bar do you most often prop up?

When I’m not checking out the latest bars on South Beach and Lincoln Road, I head to Playwright Irish Pub, the quintessential Irish pub which serves some of the cheapest drinks on South Beach. It’s predictable, unpretentious and always a good time for a low-key drink. For clubbing, I like Mansion. An oldie-but-a-goodie, I like to relax on the suede sofas on the mezzanine and watch the action before hitting the massive dance floor in the main hall.

What place do you hope the rest of the world never discovers?

Clematis Street’s shops and restaurants attract a local crowd of mostly hipsters with just about every other subculture thrown in for good measure, which makes it the polar opposite to Miami’s nightlife scene. Located an hour north of Miami in West Palm Beach, the area offers an eclectic mix of boutique shops and eateries and Respectable Street, an alternative live music venue.

Is there something to you that is quintessentially ‘Miami’?

With the pastel Art Deco buildings behind me, crystal blue waters before me, and tan and toned beachgoers as far as the eye can see, there’s nothing more Miami than lounging with a frosty drink in hand under a palm tree while taking in the sights and sounds of Miami Beach.

One piece of advice for visitors?

Venture beyond South Beach. So many visitors equate Miami with South Beach but there’s more to Miami than azure water, white sandy beaches, and posh clubs. Coral Gables and Coconut Grove have great art galleries, museums, and bustling nightlife scenes.

Download our free guide to Miami here.