Tag Archives: cafe

No Bastille Market today

As a consequence of Friday’s tragic events the markets remain close today. This is a pity because we love going to the Bastille Market every Sunday, and would have gone also today. All those colors bring us a lot of joy. Not to mention that we bring home several bags of fruits and vegetables that last at least until Thursday –the day the market opens again.

The Bastille Market, open on Thursdays and Sundays, gives a lot of joy to us.

The Bastille Market, open on Thursdays and Sundays, gives a lot of joy to us. Today the market remains close.

Many Parisian have preferred to stay indoors since yesterday but I believe this is exactly what the terrorists want. And I don’t want to give in. I have never been good at doing what I am “supposed” to do…

Yesterday afternoon we left our secured home and wandered through the streets of Paris. First Rue de Charonne where we met with a friend, then la Place de la Nation and Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine. The 11th arrondissement  was very quiet indeed but calling it a ghost town would be far-fetched. Near Faidherbe-Chaligny metro, a few steps away from the shooting sites, we said good bye to a friend who headed home. We started walking towards our arrondissement, the 4th, and did groceries in the heart of the lower Marais, Saint Paul. Shops, cafes and restaurants were open and alive. By the time we were ready to return home it was lheure de lapéro. I paid attention to a church that was unusually full of people of all age. Hundreds of candles were lit.

In a few minutes we are going to check the market anyway. Maybe an odd vendor will be selling aubergines and grapes? Probably not. In this case we are going to have a walk. Should we stay inside and prepare for the worst, minimize the risk by skipping our usual habits? No, I don’t think so. I have never lived by fear, even in countries where I probably should have because the risk of terrorism was very high. So far my intuition and luck (or destiny if you prefer) have kept me alive and I trust they will continue to do so. Maybe I am naive but I refuse to live under fear.

PS I was going to end this post by referring to the Western values like freedom etc., but I don’t want to fall under this East (“bad values”) versus West (“good values”) thinking, which I believe is another trap, something terrorist want us to start believing too. The global situation is by far much more complex….

The Old Market Hall in Helsinki

From The Market Square by the sea in Helsinki my little good bye tour of Helsinki continued to another wonderful market, the Old Market Hall. This beautiful building, open to public in 1889, is one of three covered market halls in Helsinki and another must place to see when visiting the Finnish capital.

The Old Market Hall opened its doors in 1889. This is when Finland was an autonomous state of Russia named the Grand Duchy of Finland.

The Old Market Hall opened its doors in 1889. This is when Finland was an autonomous state of Russia, the Grand Duchy of Finland.

The Old Market Hall has some of the best choices of food in Helsinki, from oysters to snails.

The choice of food is outstanding and includes fresh oysters, snails, crayfish and best cuts of meat, among many others.

I had already had strawberries and coffee outside by the sea, and it was now time for salmon and more coffee. A typical Finnish breakfast (just kidding!).

My mission was to overdose on Finnish delicacies before catching my flight a few hours later and I had decided there was no better way to do this than buy slices of marinated salmon and eat them with fingers!

Salmon with different flavors at Fish Shop Marja Nätti. My paradise!!

Salmon with different flavors and ways of preparation at Fish Shop Marja Nätti. My paradise!!

When in Finland, make sure that you taste other fish like white fish, too. The variety of fresh water fish keeps impressing me, so don't stick to only salmon.

When in Finland, make sure that you taste other fish like white fish, too. The variety of freshwater fish keeps impressing me, so please do not stick to only salmon!

I purchased a few slices of marinated salmon from Fish Shop Marja Nätti that I got to know during my food tour in May (Helsinki by Food), and entered a fish heaven. I have no problem eating salmon for breakfast, as long as it tastes good, and the rosé pepper flavored salmon was just from heaven. Not only it tasted divine, but I was also boosting my Omega 3 levels… Perfect! Ready to leave Finland soon!

The Old Market Hall: http://vanhakauppahalli.fi/en/

Discover New Restaurants by Les Heures Heureuses

For the third consecutive year, the City of Paris organized Les Heures Heureuses in the end of May. This successful food event has become very popular and it is about new discoveries: to make Parisians break their usual habits by visiting new bars and restaurants.

And sure, there is a lot to discover! This year, more than 280 restaurants in different parts of Paris were selling small tapas at only 2€ and most places offered wine at 2€ per glass to go with. We participated only on Friday night (and missed Thursday and Saturday), and made some excellent new discoveries.

 les Heures Heureuses

Our first we stop was La Cave Mavrommatis, the famous Greek wine bar and shop. Our food tour started well with a complimentary, full-scale wine tasting of white, rosé and red from Domaine Kir Yanni from the northern part of Greece. The moment we tasted the mini pitta filled with Graviera cheese, our next holiday destination was chosen…

Tip: If you have not yet eaten at Mavrommatis (42 rue Daubenton), hurry up! One of the best pigeons I have ever eaten.

Les Nautes

Our second stop, Les Nautes, continued on the Mediterranean side: veal meatballs in tomato sauce. Yummy! And excellent rosé.

Tip: Looking for a terrace by the Seine this summer? Think of . During Paris Plages there won’t be any cars.

Allo Sushi

From the Seine we moved to the heart of Marais for marinated salmon with herbs and edamame. Allo Sushi was previously unknown to us and we made a decision to make it our new Japanese cantine.

Tip: Every morning a seven-kilo Scottish salmon is delivered to Allo Sushi… with Le Label Rouge guarantee of excellency!

Le Thé des Écrivains

Our fourth stop was a book shop with a cafe –again a place we did not know about. Le Thé des Écrivains served a delicious Thai cake made of tako flower and coconut milk, and we had a cup of tea with it. A delightful address worth returning to!

Tip: More than a book shop! Cultural activities every week. Check Le Thé des Ecrivains for program.


Energy level up, we walked from the Marais to the 11th arrondissement. Our fifth stop was L’Embuscade, a lively bar in the trendy Oberkampf area. We had homemade Berber couscous and enjoyed friendly service and lively atmosphere.

Tip: Free couscous every Friday!!

Pierre Sang

Next and last stop was in Oberkampf, too. Run by a Top-Chef finalist of the same name, Pierre-Sang has been making buzz in Paris since 2012. We had two cheese tartines that were served with some unidentifiable (but delicious!) sauce. Will return very soon.

Tip: No reservations, no telephone, so arrive at the opening (7 o’clock in the evening) and preferably a bit earlier!


It was my first time to take part in Les Heures Heureuses and I would not want to miss it next year! We made many new discoveries at the cost of 40€ for two wine included. Who would not be happy?

Les Heures Heureuses: http://lesheuresheureuses.paris.fr

Addresses we tried:

Mavrommatis (group of restaurants and shops): http://www.mavrommatis.com
Les Nautes: http://www.lesnautes.com
Allo Sushi: http://www.allosushi.com (ALLO SUSHI)
Le Thé des Écrivains: http://www.thedesecrivains.com
L’Embuscade: L’Embuscade
Pierre-Sang: http://pierresangboyer.com

Helsinki by Food

So much has happened on the Helsinki food scene since the ’90s that some call it a revolution.

All current Michelin-star restaurants in Helsinki have been created since 2003 and none of the current Bib Gourmand restaurants existed before 2009. In addition to Russian, Tex-Mex and Mediterranean restaurants, which were some of the first international cuisines to arrive in Helsinki, choices keep growing. There is now a Kosher deli. A Peruvian restaurant opened earlier this year. Two young chefs mix Korean, Japanese and North-Chinese flavors. Hakaniemi neighborhood has turned into a bazaar of ethnic grocery shops. The Restaurant Day concept, born in Helsinki in 2011, has now spread to more than 30 countries. The first street food event was organized in March this year. And the list goes on. Indeed, Helsinki has never been as welcoming to foodies as it is today!

As someone who left Helsinki in the mid-’90s, I am intrigued by the latest food scene developments of my old hometown. During my last visit to Helsinki in May this year I took this passion even further and spent an entire day touring the Finnish capital with a professional food guide. Read further to see why this day was fantastic!

I met my lovely guide Veera in front of the Hietalahti Market Hall, which was our first stop. According to an urban legend, this 110-year-old covered market was used as a horse stable during the Russian rule.As visiting Finland is nothing without discovering local fish, our first stop was Fish Shop Marja Nätti. We had a chance to run into Petri, Marja’s son, who proudly explained to us that the sandwich we are eating is their newest recipe: cold-smoked salmon and asparagus on malt bread topped with caviar-infused Hollandaise sauce. Wow. It was as delicious as it sounds like and yes, it was eco-friendly caviar grown in the heart of Finland’s lake district.

Indeed, respecting the ecosystem, traditions and small fishermen were the words that kept appearing in Petri’s talk. He revealed that this summer Marja Nätti will co-run a fish and chips restaurant at the entrance (outside) of the Hietalahti Market Hall. One of the items on the menu will be a fish burger made of those Finnish fish (roach, pike, etc.) that have been ignored for a long time by chefs.fish skinJust as we were leaving, Petri grinned and asked “are you adventurous“? Curious as we are, Veera and I responded yes and Petri brought us another new product: fried salmon skin, a Finnish delicacy from the ’60s and the ’70s. I was a bit skeptical before tasting it, mainly because I am not a big fan of fried food, but it was lighter than I thought. And very tasty. My guests in Paris, are you ready for fish skin starters?

Our second and third stops were chosen by Veera because they are true representatives of the classic Helsinki: Lasipalatsi and Fazer. She explained to me that in spite of all sorts of exotic tendencies that hug Helsinki at the moment, these two places have maintained the market position thanks to their excellent, traditional products and loyal customers. At times when so much new comes to the market every week, people like to return to the roots from time to time, she added.

Lasipalatsi is an architectural masterpiece, a perfect example of Finnish Functionalist architectural style from the ’30s. Originally built as a temporary office building, Lasipalatsi is today one of the main landmarks of Helsinki and home to a well-known retro restaurant and a busy cafe, as well as other businesses.LasipalatsiThe best cafes of Helsinki are located in the residential neighborhoods but Café Lasipalatsi in the heart of Helsinki is one of the rare exceptions” Veera told me. She continued to explain that helsinkiläiset (residents of Helsinki) are very fond of this institution, making Café Lasipalatsi a meeting point of different generations. As we were walking out, I snapped some quick photos that in my opinion portray well that particular atmosphere (very Kaurismäki some may say).Cafe LasipalatsiOur third stop, Fazer, needs no introduction to Finnish readers. To my foreign readers, let me start by saying that Fazer is a confectionery and food company, created in 1891. Whenever there is a ranking of the most-loved Finnish brands, Fazer and its products are on the top of the list. For example, if you ask a Finn living abroad what she misses about Finland, she/he will probably tell you “Fazerin Sininen” (Fazer’s most popular milk chocolate).Fazerin SininenWe stopped for a cup of coffee but Veera reminded me that I should try to come back to enjoy Fazer’s famous brunch. Apparently reservations are sometimes needed a month in advance but this seemed understandable to me. Who would not salivate over these sandwiches? FazerFrom the city center we moved to a charming neighborhood called Kruununhaka, and this is where I got a little bit lost. I know Helsinki very well, and could have guessed the previous stops, but suddenly I had no idea where I was walking. Suspense!Anton & AntonAnton & Anton, where we stopped, is a lovely grocery store created out of love. The founders, previously unknown to each other, met and decided to create a super market that specializes in personalized service and sells the kind of food they would want to eat themselves. Conveniently, they both had a son called Anton, and that resolved the problem about the shop name. Cute, isn’t it!Anton&AntonWhile we were tasting different types of cheese (with fantastic fig and rhubarb jam!), I learned more about the everyday business of Anton & Anton. Veera told me that the idea of Anton & Anton is not to sell exclusively organic food, but simply good food: seasonal products, handpicked artisan products, food that comes from respected origin, grown by passionate small farmers, etc. Some products come from Finland –many from the Åland Islands I noticed– but there are products from abroad, too. Before we left Anton & Anton I made a note to self: fill your picnic basket here next summer.

Our next and last destination required catching Helsinki’s funky orange metro. It was a nice ride by the sea and this time I knew where we were going: Teurastamo alias the Abattoir. Yes, this lovely ’30s building made of brick was indeed a place of blood until the early ’90s. The Abattoir HelsinkiVeera was taking me around the Abattoir complex but I had to stop her to confess something. “Veera, I do not understand what the Abattoir is about. It seems to be work in progress but where is it heading to?“, I asked her. Veera laughed and said it was well said. She continued that indeed the Abattoir is an urban concept still looking for its identity, but that basically its role is to provide premises for different activities (often ad hoc) including city gardening, food-related lectures and festivals, flea market, concerts, exhibitions, etc. One can also book a sauna (of course, after all we are in Finland!) or simply use the premises for a private barbecue party. The main guideline of the Abattoir is to keep it easily accessible and available to everyone.

In addition to aforementioned activities, there are a wholesale market and some restaurant-bars. We visited Jädelino, an ice-cream bar run by a Finno-Italian couple. JädelinoValerio, the Italian side of the love story, served us amazing pistachio and divine chocolate ice cream. He explained that he has no previous experience in ice cream making but that a kind man in his home town taught him all the tricks. Last November Valerio was ready and Jädelino opened its doors to serve ice cream and sorbet of Finnish and other flavors. When Valerio mentioned that some customers come from really far away just for his ice cream I was not surprised –I will return from Paris for his pistachio! And I will definitely return to the Abattoir. For me, it is one of the most interesting things happening on the Helsinki food scene at the moment.

My guide: 

Veera Teppola
Facebook: Helsinki Bites / Blog: http://food-fetish.com / Email: helsinkibites@gmail.com
Visits are tailor made and languages spoken include Finnish and English.
Highly recommended!

… places visited during the tour:

The Hietalahti Market Hall: http://www.hietalahdenkauppahalli.fi
Fish Shop Marja Nätti: http://www.kalaliikemarjanatti.fi
Lasipalatsi Restaurant: http://www.ravintolalasipalatsi.fi
Café Lasipalatsi: http://cafelasipalatsi.fi
Karl Fazer Café: http://www.fazer.fi/kahvilat-ja-leipomot/kahvilat–ravintolat/karl-fazer-cafe/karl-fazer-cafe/
Anton & Anton: http://www.antonanton.fi
Teurastamo (The Abattoir): http://www.teurastamo.com
Jädelino: http://www.jadelino.fi

Wooden Houses in Helsinki

In a country like Finland, where 75% of land is covered by forest, it comes as no surprise that wood has been the most important construction material over the centuries –in fact all the way until the 19th century when stone took over.

Many charming and cute wooden houses were built in Helsinki over the decades but only few still exist. Many were destroyed during various wars, but in addition the rather universal demolishing wave of the 60’s and 70’s also hit Finland, leading to destruction of entire blocks of wooden houses. The ideology behind these projects was to look into the future i.e. modernity and to be more efficient in terms of space and its utilization. Productivity became the dominant order and aesthetics lost importance. Puu-VallilaPuu-VallilaHowever, those interested in architecture and old wooden houses can still find wonderful pearls scattered around Helsinki. One of these areas is called Puu-Vallila (Little Vallila in Finnish), located in the northern part of the Helsinki city center (on both sides of Mäkelänkatu). Houses of Puu-Vallila were built around 1910.Puu-VallilaThese houses that survived the demolition are today inhabited by proud families who often come from artistic background. The former blue-collar neighborhood has found its bohemian side.Puu-VallilaOne needs about one hour to explore the neighborhood. It is very residential and there is only one bar/cafe where to stop for a drink or some snack (Pikku-Vallila, Vallilantie 19, Tel: 09-7013737).

Puu-Vallila: highly recommended for a lovely walk on Sunday or on one of the sleepless midsummer nights!


For maps and more information:

Helsinki Tourist Information (http://www.visithelsinki.fi/en)
Pohjoisesplanadi 19
Mon-Fri 9-18, Sat-Sun 10-16
Tel. +358 (0)9 3101 3300


Les Nautes: newcomer by the Seine

Les Nautes is one of the latest additions to the Parisian restaurant scene. Located right by the Seine and in front of the Île Saint-Louis, this old customs house has an industrial feel to it. I loved its unusual entrance. Once inside, I admired beautiful wooden tables, 13 pendant Alvar Aalto lamps (golden, like we have at home!) and art pieces (sculpture and paintings) by young artists. Bravo for the original decoration! Les NautesRecommended by Le Fooding, our food bible to eating in Paris, Les Nautes had been on our list since its opening last October (the bar opened one year earlier). We live a five-minute walk away from the restaurant and believe it is important to support the neighborhood restaurants –that’s how the arrondissements of Paris stay vivant (alive)!

We had the corner table by the window and enjoyed watching touristic boats cruise along the Seine. Bread, butter and Poisson Rouge arrived, and we got to taste this curious, organic white wine from Lanquedoc-Roussillon that actually is red by color! It tasted fruity and had I closed my eyes, I probably wouldn’t have tasted its “color”. It was the most perfect pairing with oysters and our main courses: fish and meat. oysters at Les NautesFor starters, we shared six oysters from the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel, Britanny, and they were the best oysters I have eaten for a long time. In fact, as this oyster season (which started last September) has been very mild, I find that oysters have not been at their best this winter. And if you follow my blog, you may remember that I regularly eat these seafood delicacies…Les NautesFor the main course, my husband ate tuna and I had entrecôte. Both dishes were succulent, and the taste of the fish and meat proved that the restaurant goes out of its way to find only the best products. The only regret we had was that the side dishes for both of us was the same (rather ordinary-tasting courgettes with cream).

The bill came to 77€ for two, including a shared starter, two main courses and a bottle of wine (19€). Very reasonable for such great quality I consider, and we will definitely return!

PS: First of all, Les Nautes recently changed the chef, so I would not count too much on the older Tripadvisor reviews. Secondly, Les Nautes also has a bar by the river, and I bet it will be one of the hottest terraces in Paris this summer! Especially during the Paris Plage when the cars cannot circulate nearby.

Restaurant (http://www.lesnautes.com): 1 Quai des Célestins, 75004 Paris. Tel. 01-42745953. Metro: Sully Morland or Pont Marie

Le Fooding review: http://lefooding.com/en/restaurants/restaurant-les-nautes-paris

Wine: http://www.vins-bios.fr/domaine-de-clairac-coteaux-d-enserune-languedoc/471-poisson-rouge-2010-domaine-de-clairac-coteaux-d-enserune-.html

Lamps: Alvar Aalto bell lamps from 1937 find a new home in Paris

Easy breakfast and lunch snacks in Venice

This is the first post about what and where to eat in Venice. I thought that for the simplicity, it would make sense to separate the quick snack options from dinner options, so here you go. Your guide to filling the stomach from the early morning to late afternoon!

WHERE TO EAT BREAKFAST? If your hotel does not offer breakfast, head to a bakery. Or if you prefer savory breakfast, why not to start the morning with tramezzini, also called Venetian tea sandwich. These triangular sandwiches (starting 1.50€ per piece) come with many different fillings, making it fun to learn Italian. Tonno pomodori anyone? tramezzini

TRAMEZZINI AND DEEP-FRIED SNACKS AT ROSTICCERIA SAN BARTOLOMEO. If you are busy visiting museums and sites, grabbing a few more tramezzini for lunch can be an easy and cheap option. If you have a bit more time, but still not enough for a proper sit-down meal where you are served, try Rosticceria San Bartolomeo at Calle della Bissa (500 meters north from Piazza San Marco). This smallish cafe/restaurant seems popular among the locals and we saw one gondolier eat here every day. With a glass of wine, of course. Must be a good sign! Rosticceria San BartolomeoTIP: two people can eat for less than 10€ if ordering only tramezzini and deep-fried snacks. Simply go to the counter and explain what you would like to have, and bring the food yourself to the table. This is what we did the first day.

However, the second day we went to the other counter (located still on the ground floor), where fried fish, grilled vegetables, etc. are being displayed, and ordered two plates at the counter. For some reason our bill jumped to 40€, which we felt was no longer a decent price for a quick lunch. The food was tasty, but not worth that much.

Lastly, there is also an upstairs restaurant, but it did not look particular attractive (this is also where the restrooms are). You may as well save money and sit on the ground floor by the windows I suggest.Rosticceria San Bartolomeo

THE MOST OBVIOUS LUNCH CHOICE: PIZZA! During our previous visit to Venice we had pizza on the terrace every other day. It was autumn and pizza with some local wine was the perfect way to warm us up and boost the energy level. But, as soon as you sit down, the bill goes up, so it is not very economical! This time it was too cold to eat outside and we did not devote as much time for eating our lunch, but should you still fancy pizza, get a slice! LIke tramezzi, they are everywhere and come in many toppings.pizza slices in VeniceWho can resist these delicious slices -I cannot! So, pick your choice and say buon appetito!


PS For dinner options, click here: Where to dine in Venice?

Short stay in Helsinki (my personal highlights)

After the summer house we spent only two full days in Helsinki. It was a brief visit, and it rained very often, so we did not get to visit as much as we had planned. But this short stay was very pleasant and I made a mental note of returning to Helsinki again this autumn (each year I say this, and then by the time the cold weather begins in Paris, we prefer to travel to warmer places. Let’s see about this autumn). The Senate Square, Helsinki

Some highlights of our Helsinki visit were (not in any particular order):

  • Walking around Kauppatori (The Market Square) and Senaatintori (The Senate Square): watch the luxury cruise ships leave for Tallinn and Stockholm, admire the architecture dating back to the first part of the 19th century (the Russian rule), contemplating at the market by the sea whether to buy a reindeer skin or one kilo of strawberries!
  • Visiting Artek, the world famous Finnish design and furniture shop (http://www.artek.fi/index.html). A must! Artek
  • Grillata“: prepare and eat Finnish barbeque (which includes salmon of course). For cooking ideas, see What does Finnish barbeque look like?
  • Kappeli (http://www.kappeli.fi/): this restaurant/bar/cafe opened in 1867. It is a Helsinki institution and located in a beautiful, wooden building right by the Market Square. We had just coffee.
  • Putte’s Bar (http://www.puttes.fi/): I ate a very good Funghi pizza that came with chanterelle mushrooms. I loved the pizza but I have two remarks about the place: I had made a reservation and we were seated downstairs, in the darkest corner. Also the wine is super expensive (like almost everywhere in Finland).
  • Liberty or Death (http://libertyordeath.fi/): we drunk cocktails with famous ice hockey players. Could it get more Finnish?
  • Alppitori (http://www.ravintolatori.fi/alppila/): they have excellent hamburgers. My chicken burger came with avocados. My husband’s burger came with crispy bacon. And the best part is that they have French rosé wine for 25€ per bottle.
  • Siltanen (http://www.siltanen.org/): we had drinks at this club/bar/restaurant that I like very much. It is trendy and hip, and has that industrial feeling. They have DJs and groups playing almost every night.

Time went by very fast and sooner than I realized, I was sitting in an airplane looking at those thousands of tiny islands scattered around Helsinki and its coastline. Helsinki archipelago

First summer days, first terrace dinner

Wasn’t it only two weeks ago that I wrote Spring has arrived in Paris (at least in the Conran Shop) ? Since then, there have been several lovely days, temperature climbing up to 25C. Summer is here, or not far away anyway, and the signs are everywhere: picnics along the Seine and Canal Saint-Martin, terraces full of Parisians, sandals, shorts, skirts, sleeveless tops… picnic along Canal Saint Martin

Even birds are happier. We seem to have a new friend: a rose-colored pigeon keeps visiting our balcony. In fact (s)he doesn’t seem to be able to decide whether (s)he prefers our neighbor’s palm tree or our 1870s balcony railing! pigeon in balcony

Last night, after a vernissage at Le Grand Palais we joined the rest of Paris (what it seemed like!) and ate at one of Rue Cler’s terraces. Rue Cler, located in the 7th arrondissement (metro Ecole Militaire), is one of the loveliest pedestrian market streets in Paris. Ok, to be fair, there are many, but I am attached to this street as we lived few blocks away and used to do our Sunday morning groceries there. The choice is excellent: there is a good-quality fish shop (poissonnerie), flower shops, fruit and vegetable stalls, fromagerie, etc. Rue Cler is also rich in cafes and restaurants, and therefore makes a good destination to visit any time of the day. I will now share a small secret…

When the market closes around 14h on Sunday, the shop keepers come to Café du Marché (http://www.timeout.com/paris/en/bars-pubs/le-cafe-du-marche). It is a lot of fun watching (mostly) men entering the cafe in their work clothes and comparing stories, while adding ice cubes to pastis. There is an atmosphere and it is a real neighborhood hangout. Rue Cler and Cafe du MarcheI have been going to Café du Marché for over ten years now, and it is nice to see that the prices have not doubled like in many other places. For example, a large beer and a glass of rosé at the bar cost just over 7€ (you know that consuming at the bar is less expensive than at the table or terrace in France?). And the rose was not any rosé, but Minuty (http://www.chateauminuty.com)! Impressive. At the lunch hour you get a decent plat du jour for a reasonable price, too, and wine is available in pichet. As you see in the photo, there is a large terrace and in early spring or late autumn it comes with heating. Nothing too fancy, but cosy and simple. The photo above was taken last night but I shall return during the day to take more photos.




Eat Drink Sleep Siem Reap (survival guide to Siem Reap)

Our stay in Siem Reap was far from perfect, but I think I have some tips to share with you should you plan to visit this city in the northwestern part of Cambstreet view Siem Reapodia.

WHEN TO GO: We arrived in Siem Reap on February 11, 2013, which was the second day of the Chinese New Year and therefore probably the busiest week of the entire year. According to Chheuy Chhorn, deputy director of the tourism department in Siem Reap, 41 flights from China and Vietnam landed everyday during February 11-13 (source: http://www.phnompenhpost.com/2013021461364/Business/angkor-wat-sees-tourism-spike-over-lunar-new-year.html). Imagine the abundance otemple in SRf tourists and then imagine the missing photo opportunities! If you have a choice, do not go to Siem Reap just before, during or right after the Chinese New Year. Siem Reap, thanks to its proximity to Angkor Wat and other famous temples, constantly receives a large number of tourists, but try visiting off season, even during the rainy season.

HOW LONG TO STAY: Prior to visiting Siem Reap many people were astonished at our plan to stay for approximately fiIMG_0539ve days. Many thought two, or at very maximum three days should more than plenty. I still think five days was a good length, and that in general one needs three full days to visit the temples and the surroundings of Siem Reap. Temple tickets are available for one, three or seven days and we purchased a three-day ticket and have no regrets. Since there is so much history, knowledge and beauty to be absorbed, I would recommend splitting those three days over four or even five days (ticket allows you to do so).  It took the rulers centuries to build all those temples, so to get a real feeling one or two days is just not enough!

WHERE TO SLEEP: Our main criteria regarding accommodation was to stay at a local, traditional place and support the local economy. So I did some Tripadvisor research before leaving Paris and found a guesthouse called Tranquility Angkor Villa (the photo below with the bed) and booked it over internet. It started badly: upon our arrival at 10pmfrom the airport there was a problem with overbooking (they constantly double book). We searched everywhere on internet to find another hotel to sleep in but everything was full. Everything. The  manager suggested we sleep on the mattress on their balcony but after seeing a huge rat run by we said no. To cut the story short, we ended up sleeping two nights at Tranquility Angkor Villa but on the second morning I woke up with hundreds of bites all over my body…… I had been bitten by bed bugs! We had planned to move to another more central guesthouse anyway so off we went. We paid 30usd per night (and got reimbursed half becauseTranquility Angkor Villa of the bed bugs) but in my opinion there are so many nicer (and cheaper!) places to stay at for much better quality and location! Do not let Tripadvisor reviews about the owners’  friendliness to fool you. Lastly, two brothers are not even owners…

(As soon as I realized what had happened I wrote a review on Tripadvisor, and I rewrote it upon our return to Paris, and still today, nothing has been published! I see other negative reviews have been written about Tranquility Angkor Villa since our stay but I am still curiously waiting to see when mine comes out, or if it ever will, and why not……)

It has rarely happened to me anywhere in the world that everything is full, but during that week it seemed to be the case in Siem Reap. Almost. For the rest of our stay we slept at Popular Guest House (the photo on the right) which was more centrally located and clean. If you are stuck in Siem Reap and “everything is full”, you may find a room at Popular Guest House because they have over 50 rooms (they are more like a one-Popular Guest Housestar hotel). We found that staff was pretty unfriendly and only interested in money but what can you expect from a place where you pay 10USD per night? There is also a rooftop restaurant but it serves nothing to write home about… (http://www.popularguesthouse.com/)

This said, I would suggest a few places that I heard good things about. Babel Guesthouse (http://www.babelsiemreap.hostel.com/) is a guesthouse located in Wat Bo Road, about 2km from Pub Street (where Tranquility Angkor Villa is also), and it is also recommended by Cambodia and Laos by Eyewitness guidebook. A Finnish couple we met on the Siem Reap – Viantine flight spoke very highly about Babel Guesthouse, saying it was excellent, very clean and food so delicious they didn’t need to leave the guesthouse in the evening. My Home Tropical Garden Villa (http://www.myhomecambodia.com/) is a small, stylish guesthouse with a swimming pool in the same street than Popular Guest House (about 10 minutes walk from Pub Street). This is where we wanted to stay, but could not get a room. Double AC room costs 20USD. A very affordable hotel we heard good things about is Central Boutique Angkor Hotel (http://www.centralboutiqueangkorhotel.com/) where room prices start at 47USD.

In higher category, Hôtel de La Paix is going through renovation and rebranding, and will open as Park Hyatt Siem Reap (http://siemreap.park.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels-siemreap-park/index.jsp?null) very soon (Q1 2013?). A dear friend stayed at Hôtel de La Paix last year and loved it beyond words. “It was BLISS”, he told me.

Otherwise, most of the four- and five-star resorts are located on the Airport Road: far away from Pub Street but more easily accessible should you want to return to your hotel for lunch in between the temple visits. Just last week a friend stayed at Borei Angkor Resort & Spa http://www.boreiangkor.com/) and he got a very interesting off-season deal “definitely worth the money”.

PS Like us, you may want to have a pool to jump into after walking up and down all those temple stairs under the burning sun. However, unless you spend the money to stay at a fancy resort, you do not need to look for a guesthouse with a pool. First of all, temple visits are time-consuming so you may not even have time for swimming. Secondly, you can use a pool at almost any hotel in exchange of few USD.

WHERE TO EAT: Khmer Kitchen

During our five-day stay in we mainly ate at Khmer Kitchen (http://www.khmerkitchens.com/) located in the Alley (be aware of other restaurants that carry an almost identical name). We particularly liked fish amok, chicken khmer curry (with pumpkins, potatoes Khmer Kitchenand carrots) and mango salad. I cannot say the food was very refined but it was consistently good enough, and the setting cosy. Unfortunately the service was quite inattentive and slow most of the time.

One day we tried Angkor Palm (http://www.angkorpalm.com/) because it has a reputation as a good and safe place to get a good introduction to KhmeAngkor Palmr cuisine . The sampling platter for two (the photo on the right) had nothing amazing on it except maybe the spring rolls…

Our last night in Siem Reap came and it was time to change and try something different, so why not Cambodian BBQ (http://www.restaurant-siemreap.com/html/cambodianbbq.php)? We ordered “Real local BBQ”, 10USD for two, which includes beef, chicken or pork, bell peppers, lettuce, onion, basil, rice and yellow needles. As you see in the photo on the left, the mBBQeat is cooked on the domed part and the vegetables in the stock surrounding the domed part. There was a Khmer sauce for dipping but did it make the barbeque more tasty? Not really. It was a fun-enough experience to do once, but I am sure there are better places to taste authentic Cambodian barbeque.

For coffee, we tried Blue Pumpkin (http://www.tbpumpkin.com/) but were not impressed by their coffee or cookies. However, we really appreciated having a quiet moment early in the morning at Le Grand Cafe. EsprLe Grand Cafeesso was excellent, venue beautiful and service efficient. The woman we met there (manager/owner?) speaks very good French and is very friendly. Le Grand Cafe reminds me of some cafes we visited in Havanna and Santiago de Cuba, and I actually regret we didn’t go back in the evening for a drink.

TRANSPORT & VISITS: Every guesthouse and hotel can organize a guide and a car/tuk tuk, but it is cheaper if you have a direct contact. Toward the end of our stay we got to know a young man called Chhor Chamnan and regret of not meeting him earlier. Chhor has been in tourism business for 13 years, working regularly with the Australian Embassy in Singapore. He is pleasant, reliable and his English is very good –highly recommended. He charges 20USD per day for a car in Angkor area and 40USD to visit the sites more far away. Should you need his guide services, he takes an extra 20USD per day.

His email is chhorchamnan@hotmail.com and mobile number +855 (0) 12786723. (We made a mistake of booking our guide via Popular Guest House and the guide’s knowledge was appalling. Apparently finding a good guide is difficult because the best ones are reserved for tour groups and luxury hotels well in advance)

IN CASE OF URGENCY: In the Northeastern end of Pub Street there is a pharmacy called U-Care (http://ucarepharma.com/) which is really as good and reliable as any Western pharmacy. Staff speaks English and are friendly.

For more urgent needs there is Royal Angkor International Hospital on the Airport Road, affiliated with Bangkok Hospital Medical Center (http://www.royalangkorhospital.com). They may not accept your insurance, so you have to pay upfront (it can get very expensive, as a simple consultation costs around 120USD) and Khmer China Clinicget reimbursed by your insurance company once back in your home country –not the way it should work!). Right in the center of Siem Reap, near the upcoming Hyatt, there is also Friendship Khmer-China Clinic (no website but easy to find). It is much less fancy, but highly recommended for their availability, reactivity, kindness and attitude (and prices are substantially lower). I probably would not want to spend a night there but some of the most amazing human beings I have ever met work there.  As your third option, and should you want something Western, there is Naga Healthcare (http://www.nagahealthcare.com/). In our case Doctor Joost Hoekstra was not very helpful, but he speaks French, too.

BOTTOM LINE: The center of Siem Reap is not very nice. In the evening it becomes a Drinking Factory and the epicenter of all happening is its famous Pub Street (see the photo). We only enjoyed the center in the early morning when everyone else (who was not already visiting temples) was too hang over to get up. Pub StreetDuring our Southeast Asia tour we met many people who shared this vision and I think it is a pity. Locals surely are pleased about the foreign currency inflow, but I cannot help myself but to wonder could the tourism have taken a different direction in Siem Reap? This said, I think it is important to separate Siem Reap and the temples. If you are going to Siem Reap, it is most likely because of the temples. So, forget the center and Pub Street, and try to focus on enjoying the beauty of the architecture and understanding the vision of the Hindu kings who built those temples because this is what Angkor really is about and what really matters.