Category Archives: Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Track: San Francisco’s Hayes Valley

‘Great Adventure’ is painted in giant marquee letters on the side of a Victorian mansion on the corner of Hayes Valley’s Octavia and Page Streets. This Ben Eine mural is a constant reminder of the district’s steadfast spirit. Since suffering a crucial blow from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and subsequent fires, the community has continued to surmount itself. Bold entrepreneurs moved into the area after big-scale renovations had tidied up the neighborhood. Now, twenty-five years later, a unique ambiance has spawned with exciting shops, mural masterpieces, food truck dining, blossoming public gardens, and a relaxed atmosphere. Hidden away in the shadows of Civic Center’s domes, Hayes Valley has risen to contain all ingredients that make San Francisco so special.

When approaching the neighborhood from the east, coming from City Hall, picturesque Linden Street offers the prettiest entrance. Rather than lined-up cars, planters dominate this lively alley. Appropriately titled ‘While You Wait’, a monochromatic mural by Zio Ziegler offers the perfect distraction while waiting in line for Blue Bottle Coffee. Stashed away in a garage, this coffee hut is believed to have the best coffee in town. The New Orleans-style iced coffee, in particular, gloriously kick-starts your morning. The stretch of greenery that lies ahead is Patricia’s Green, the epicenter of neighborhood life. When sun bathing on the park’s lawn, give in to one of Smitten Ice Cream’s many surprising flavors. How about brown cinnamon shortbread or strawberry white balsamic for a change? Consume your icy delight away from local razzle-dazzle in the narrow public gardens flanking Octavia Street. Quoting one of the sayings painted on pieces of wood, ‘let your thoughts pass thru you like wind’ when you perch down on a bench in these fenced botanical retreats. Pass through Page and Laguna Mini Park and zigzag up to Koshland Community Park before fueling up in Samovar Tea Lounge. Sumptuous lunch dishes along with artisan teas are guaranteed to provide you with the kick of energy needed to further explore Hayes Valley.

Hayes Valley

Photo by Flickr user: Charles CC2.0

Tree-topped Hayes Street accommodates the area’s trendiest stores. One of the most notable ones, Flight 001, is a traveler’s Valhalla. Decorated to look like the inside of an airplane, this swanky shop sells everything from international power adapters to stylish travel bags. With branches in major cities like Tokyo and New York, setting-up shop here demonstrates the upturn of Hayes Valley as an up-and-coming destination. Styling the city’s most fashionable residents, Undefeated has a diverse selection of the coolest sneakers, clothing, and caps. Shop for vintage one-of-a-kind items and apparels at Reliquary, just around the corner. This neighborhood trump feels both enchanting and unhurried. Comic book nerds and aficionados meet at Isotope on Fell Street. More than just a comic book store, Isotope is also a place for art, workshops, and relaxation. Chill out on one of their comfy sofas with a graphic novel in hand while discussing the latest adventures of Spider-man, Batman, and the X-men.

Just as diverse as the district’s shopping scene is the munchscape, ranging from casual eateries to posh diners. On sunny afternoons people line up for one of the many food trucks that cruise the city. Within these mobile mini-kitchens talented rookies and established chefs cook up the most delicious meals for the most satisfying prices. Baking a mean Arugula pizza, Casey’s Pizza truck has been spotted regularly on Saturday afternoons. Derived from ‘mazza’, meaning small dishes of appetizers in Arabic, Lebanese corner restaurant Mazzat serves hummus and tapas-like dishes. Every morning, grandma prepares fresh meals for the day, making this family-enterprise highly authentic. Souvla on Hayes St. is the newest addition to the exclusive Greek dining scene in San Francisco. In this rather modern walk-in, a communal table for twelve replaces the typical ramshackle seats that one might expect in traditional Greek diners. With all those enticing fragrances, choosing between pork, chicken, or lamb (or veggie) has never been this hard. No place else screams bearish German food like Rosamunde Sausage Grill in Haight Street, just west of Hayes Valley. Head here for a hearty sausage on a bun or gigantic burger, only served on Tuesdays. Expect little space to maneuver yourself to the counter as this joint is gaining popularity.

Acknowledging the great marriage between sausage and beer, next-door Toronado allows you to bring in your grilled meat. Their infamous selection of beers and divey vibe make this place one of the Bay area’s finest beer bars. If you’ve become intrigued by San Francisco’s street art scene don’t forget to take a quick peek at the mysterious ‘Two Beauties’ mural on the corner of Steiner and Haight Streets. For tall mugs of German beer, descend back to central Hayes Valley’s Biergarten. The dozens of picnic tables, alongside the shipping containers that house the bar and kitchen, are packed with people looking to spend a carefree, sunny afternoon. Cross the Atlantic in the belly of a pirate ship in Smuggler’s Cove. Looking like the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, this tiki bar serves up great cocktails and ensures a fun time. One of the lesser-known music venues, Rickshaw Stop, is the go-to place for live music of your favorite indie band or underground DJ. This venue on Fell St. gives you the opportunity to see up-and-coming acts before they go viral.

If it’s department stores, Michelin stars, and nightclubs that you’re after, you came to the wrong place. But if you are looking for trendy shoes, finger foods, and happy-go-lucky drinking, Hayes Valley will win you over. The neighborhood’s unconstrained atmosphere provides a breath of fresh air compared to downtown’s fast pace. Together with the community’s appreciation of innovative ways of living, this completes the recipe for San Francisco.

Off the Beaten Track: Bali’s Canggu

Blessed with magical scenery and flanked by miles of pristine grey beaches, Canggu is the perfect getaway from Bali’s party spots. Forming a stretch of rural villages along the south coast, the area is comprised of subdistricts Canggu and Tibubeneng. Set amidst bright green rice paddies and traditional kampongs (villages), this region offers a serene and intimate alternative to its popular neighbor Seminyak; a town that has undergone rapid transformations to become the island’s most upscale retreat. In search of challenging surf breaks and peaceful living, surfers and expatriates flocked to Canggu. Ever since, local restaurants, innovative shops, and rustic villas have sprouted and given the area its 21st century identity. Today, Canggu’s laid-back scene is one of the island’s best kept secrets. Rather than splurging on Bali’s renowned spa treatments, cruise the region’s roads and meet its people in order to feed your body, mind, and soul with a dose of new life.

With road stalls selling gasoline in vodka bottles for a penny, renting a scooter is the ideal way to explore the island. Close to Seminyak’s accommodations and laden with cafes, Jalan Batubelig is the perfect jalan (street) to start your tour. Begin your day by filling your belly with fresh bakes and barista coffee at Watercress Cafe. Their all-day breakfast menu combines Australian dishes with Asian infusions. As you follow the winding road into Jalan Pantai Berawa, rice fields gradually replace walled residences. Hidden away under palm trees along one of Canggu’s hairpin roads, a Balinese vendor prepares deliciously marinated chicken satays on his homemade charcoal grill. If you’d like your skewered meat extra spicy nod yes when he mumbles something inaudible. Get a glimpse of the scenic canals, rice terraces, and straw-hat-wearing farmers plowing their fields when you follow the signs to Echo Beach. One of the former surfers’ dens has been converted into bustling Echo Beach House with live music on Friday and Saturday night. Their beer-battered fish and chips and ice-cold Bintang beer will surely make your trip worthwhile.

Bali-street-life1

Photo by Flickr user: Bali Blog CC2.0

Although Canggu doesn’t seem like the most strategic area to set up shop, several entrepreneurs have taken the impulsive leap of faith. A handful of local shops are located in a side alley of Jalan Pantai Batu Bolong, one of Canggu’s main corridors. Outfitting the area’s beachy clientele, Ginger Snap Men’s Fashion offers limited edition men’s clothing that is made in Bali. Down the road Flow and Yonder Canggu Surf Co towers above the surrounding paddies. Check the daily surf reports pinned to the shop’s ground floor wall, before ascending the stairs to their surfboard showroom. The shop is reputable for its one-of-a-kind boards and top notch gear; unsurprisingly this is where Bali’s surf pros stock up. Nearby Deux Ex Machina is one of the island’s quaintest shops. Indeed, where else can you find clothes, books, art, and motorcycles under one roof? If you’re growing tired riding around on your tame scooter, consider adding some brute power to your trip by renting a motorcycle or push bike.

Not to be confused with a garage repair shop, Pasta Garage is one of many warungs (family-owned businesses) that the area is rich with. Located out of sight in a bumpy alley, this family-friendly restaurant is set in the idyllic garden of the owners’ house. Lanterns shed just enough light on the little tables that are spread around the patio. Their diverse menu and ridiculously cheap prices make Pasta Garage a Canggu gem. Back on the main road of this particular area sits Dabumito, one of the few Mexican restaurants on the island. Although Mexican cuisine is emphasized, the Indonesian dishes should definitely not be overlooked. For those appreciating spicy food, ask the ibu (hostess) for lombok kecil, Indonesia’s spiciest chili pepper. For something more familiar, take-away or eat in at Pizza Club where the menu is based entirely on movie titles. With extra toppings abbreviated as E.T., their seafood pizza called Finding Nemo, and their lamb pizza named Silence of the Lambs, you’re in for a laugh. Consider sitting down at one of Pantai Batu Belig’s terrace-like patios for a marvelous sunset. Just a few steps away from the beach, this local restaurant will permanently win you over on Indonesian cooking. Since the kitchen is located a few blocks away, allow some extra wait time for the food to arrive by scooter. Away from the beach, Warung Sobat has become quite the hit with both locals and foreigners looking to satiate on Indonesian dishes for next to nothing. Their satay ayam comes served on a mini grill, making it delightfully tender.

With all that tasty, inexpensive food, it’s easy to overindulge in Canggu’s dining scene. For deep after-dinner conversations relax on one of the heaven-like canopy beds at the brand new Mozaic Beachclub & Restaurant. The club’s anonymous location on one of the less visited stretches of beach keeps away loud and pretentious holiday crowds. Similarly, Vue Beach Club’s infinity pool area is decorated with comfortable seats. Dip your toes in pool or seawater while enjoying the DJ’s loungy beats. Decorated with hundreds of colorful antique shutters, Potato Head is one of Bali’s trendiest beach clubs. Surprisingly, you don’t require an unlimited credit card to spend the day feeling like a jetsetter. As you slip into the pool and have a drink at the island bar, taking in the see-and-be-seen atmosphere, you will start to comprehend how Bali earned its reputation as Asia’s new Miami.

Thanks to the upswing of locally-owned businesses, eco-friendly accommodations, and the preservation of nature, Canggu has become one of the most authentic, yet affordable, south Bali escapes. Perceived by many as a welcome alternative to Seminyak’s fancy sunglasses, expensive wines, and slick rides, the area has left developers coveting its grounds empty-handed.

Off the Beaten Track: Pretoria’s Hatfield

Pretoria, like the rest of South Africa, has entered times of massive urban renewal. Since hosting the World Cup in 2010 Pretoria, along with Cape Town and Johannesburg, has successfully revamped particular neighborhoods into vibrant and interesting places. Unfolding in Pretoria’s prettiest neighborhood is a real-life open-air exhibition of human, cultural, and architectural contrasts. Hatfield’s grounds are cultivated with student dorms, rustic bungalows, and stately diplomats’ houses. For good reasons, however, Hatfield is often referred to as party area, catering to University of Pretoria students. When moving away from the main streets, the sounds of sprinklers watering flower beds slowly replace the honking of horns and traffic noises. In Jacaranda shaded streets like these, you will find hidden shops, restaurants, and backyard pagodas typically unseen by the average visitor to Pretoria.

Taxi buses come and go, carrying and loading at least twice their capacity, before speeding off. The antique Volkswagen 1s that dominate the streetscape, purr in front of traffic lights. Hustling and bustling with activities, central Burnett Street provides you with a good first impression of modern day South Africa. With its cafes, fast food restaurants, hotels, and diverse shops, it’s the throbbing heart of Hatfield. Many young people spend most of the day smoking hookah in one of the many bars on Hatfield Square. However, beyond this lively square there is much more to experience.

Jacaranda 3

Photo by Flickr user: Ockert Botha CC2

Leave the chaos behind you by heading north. Rest your feet in Springbok Park where giant, hungry Hadada Ibis birds roam in search of a snack. Continue your way along the borders of at least a dozen countries, housed in fine ambassadorial villas. Passing the enormous American embassy, unsurprisingly bigger and more grand than its neighbors, you’ll find Eastwood Village Centre. Tucked away in the shadiest corner sits Café 41, one of Pretoria’s most enjoyable lunch spots. The cafe is praised for its good deals on continental dishes, cozy seating, and cosmopolitan vibe. Alternatively, Harrie’s Pancakes offers some of the most exotic pancakes around, both sweet and savory.

Pop into one of the few shops that have not yet been swallowed by one of many malls that scatter Pretoria. For artsy shoppers, enchanting Duncan Yard is an absolute must-see. These formerly ruinous buildings on the corner of Duncan and Prospect Street have tastefully been converted into a mini shopping center connected by picturesque corridors and stoney passages. Nowadays, the Yard is home to twenty stores selling exclusive furniture, unique merchandise, and delightful food. Maybe not as quirky but certainly charming is Owl Books just down the street. Among its dusty and unorganized shelves there are literary gems to be found. The Hatfield Flea Market, held every Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of Hatfield Plaza mall, is the place to stock up on African curios and souvenirs. Early birds can start off the weekend with a visit to the Boeremark (farmers market). Here you’ll find organic cheeses, honeys, and cakes. Be sure to be there on time since stalls are bound to be sold out by 9am.

If eating food sounds more appealing than shopping for food, you won’t come short in Hatfield’s multicultural dining scene. In self-proclaimed bastion of good times, Bravo Pizza, you can laze around, do your laundry, or pick out a good quality cut in the butchery area whilst you are waiting for your pizza. On Burnett Street, Shen Zhou Chinese Dumpling Restaurant cooks up the sweetest chili chicken you have ever tasted. With prices so cheap you keep ordering, the shabby exterior is easily ignored. On the brink of being pretentious, Papa’s Real Food is a good value, serving  international dishes and rich viands. Their minced meat and bell pepper stuffed pizza Calzone, in particular, does not leave room for dessert. All the way in the back, the attractively lit courtyard promises the same ambiance as neighboring Duncan Yard. For an elegant dining experience, try Braza in Menlyn Mall. Their Brazilian dishes, predominantly seafood, will leave you speechless; and not just because the dishes’ names are so hard to pronounce. Taste typical South African cuisine at Boer’geoisie, situated off the main roads in the middle of quiet Brooklyn. Once here, go for the Bobotie, a traditional and delicious South African version of meatloaf.

Squeeze in between uber-fanatical rugby supporters or soccer fans at Lady Chatterley’s Pub for after-dinner drinks. Low-key Aandeklas attracts similar crowds but preserves a more laid-back atmosphere. Postpone ordering beers until halftime or risk getting caught up in passionate cheering. For live action, consider a free evening game of university league rugby or soccer at the LC de Villiers sports campus. Unleash your sports-related frustrations or celebrations on the beer pong table in Herr Gunters. Mind-blowing dance-offs are common occurrences at Cheeky Monkey, a bar on the other side of the square. Ultimately, by far the poshest nightclub is Moloko Club. Balancing a strictly enforced dress-code and refined ambiance with the right amount of exuberance, this club has become one of the region’s hippest nightlife destinations.

In a land that is known for its magnificent natural beauty and coastline, metropolitan areas have always come second. Previously believed to lack noteworthy sights and, even worse, presumed to be foul, unsafe, and highly populated, Hatfield proves outdated presumptions wrong. Following the path of its predecessors, Hatfield offers an intimate and dynamic neighborhood experience as well as an urban escape from nature.

 

Off the Beaten Track: Madrid’s Malasaña

Formerly a sleepy district in the center of Madrid, Malasaña has become a refuge for the city’s outcasts in recent years. Mostly dissidents of mainstream city life, these newcomers have revived and transformed the area into one of Madrid’s most thriving neighborhoods. With forward-thinking businesses sprouting on nearly every street corner, dusty and decayed structures have made room for artisan butcheries and trendy shops. Nowadays, you’ll find local culture peacefully coexist with erotic boutiques, grow shops, and heavy metal clubs. Despite these radical changes in locals’ everyday lives, the area has remained its authentic Madrilenian panache.

Upon exiting Tribunal metro station, the earthy colors of Malasaña’s buildings take you back to Moorish times. Make your way through clothespined alleyways towards Plaza del 2 de Mayo, Malasaña’s central hub for summer festivals and weekend flea markets. Make a pit stop at Buenas y Dulces for one of their ever-so-fruity tarts before nestling yourself on one of the park’s benches; the ideal spot for serious people watching. Zigzag your way down to charming Calle del Espíritu Santo from which streets meander into the dense neighborhood. Camouflaged amongst typical Spanish facades, Lolina Vintage Café is a hidden gem. Take a breather in their eighties inspired interior and enjoy a glass of icy Tinto de Verano.

Photo by Flickr user: Javier CC2.0

Make up for skipping your siesta by adopting the Spanish tradition of late-afternoon tapas. With a hundred different mini-sandwiches on the menu and special prices on Wednesday and Sunday, Cervecería 100 Montaditos is a welcome alternative from ordinary sandwich shacks. Here’s how it works: skim the menu, order by number, and wait for your name to be called. For what are believed to be the best tapas in the area, head to Albur. With its fair prices, this restaurant provides a popular hang-out for both classy and casual crowds.

If you still find yourself with an itch in your pocket, browse through one of many specialty shops. Located just off Plaza del 2 de Mayo, Numbers Sneakers is the place to stock up a Malasaña essential: a pair of colorful hipster-approved kicks. While you’re at it, check out the custom cap-wearing mural on the wall behind the cash register. Magpie Vintage is the go-to place for both men and women looking to find unique pieces and explore new styles. End your shopping spree in Mercado de Fuencarral; a mall that houses a selection of the wackiest shops. Collections range from Jamaican memorabilia to tuxedo-styled bibs. Malasaña is also home to some of the oldest businesses in town: still-operating farmacia Juanse, founded in 1898, is the oldest of its kind in Madrid.

Sauntering the neighborhood with heavy shopping bags will work up an appetite, but remember that dinner is seldom served before 9 pm. When craving quality burgers, it’s hard to beat industrially-designed Naif Madrid Burguer & Bar, serving fully-loaded homemade burgers on toasty buns. For less than 8 euros, take-out eatery Ay Mi Madre! offers daily menus of Spanish classics; the menu may be small, but the food is quite satisfying. Alternatively sit down at atmospheric A 2 Velas and let a candlelit Iberian dinner herald true Malasaña dining and ambiance.

The people are loud and the waiters are rude; yet, Sidrería El Tigre provides a true Spanish experience. Elbow your way to the bar, order a round of beers and you’ll be rewarded with piles of complimentary tapas. Head over to Diplodocus for some serious pre-partying; bring some friends to share one of the massive 2-liter cocktails. Madrid nightlife is only getting started around midnight. Follow the twenty-something crowd to underground parties or queue up in front of scruffy-looking nightclubs. As soon as your eyes adjust to the brightly lit decorations, you’ll understand why Tupperware is among the coolest alternative rock bars in the city. Derived from what is not considered to be the most elegant of words, Maderfaker caters to a funkier crowd.

For the time being, Malasaña remains a retreat where weirdos feel perfectly normal again and people living the most banal of lives feel wonderfully weird again viagra moins cher. Set in a rustic Spanish setting, Malasaña and its residents will welcome you with open arms whether you’re a rebellious teenager, mutinous office worker, or suffering from a midlife-crisis.

Off the Beaten Track: Berlin’s Kreuzberg

Admittedly, when entering the easternmost part of Berlin’s Kreuzberg via the Oberbaumbrücke, the place feels run-down and grungy. Whether it’s because of the bridge’s dark stoned tunnel or the drunk German selling beers out of his cooler, the area’s entrance can hardly be perceived as welcoming. However, think twice before turning around and fleeing for the nearest outbound train because once immersed in eastern Kreuzberg’s bustling street life, alternative atmosphere and immigrant culture, you’ll find yourself appreciating its rough edges.

Start off your visit with wandering the neighborhood; by far the easiest and most rewarding means of exploration. Allow your nose to lead the way to one of many fragrant Arabic groceries and German Konditoreien (bakeries). Plunge down Kuchenkiste for an assortment of modern-twisted pastries, cakes, or pies. Then end your stroll in popular, but so-sketchy-it’s-beautiful, Görlitzer Park, once the site of Berlin’s main railway stations. Awe-inspiring street art can be found throughout the area. Consider taking the Public Art Tour for a selection of the most impressive works. You might want to rent a bike from either one of three Rent a Bike locations if you intend to spare your feet for late-night dancing.

Photo by Flickr user: grahamc99 CC2.0

Photo by Flickr user: grahamc99 CC2.0

A hoisted flag, waving in the wind, is the only thing missing, proclaiming the neighborhood to be hipsters territory. But then again, wouldn’t that be too obvious, for hipster standards? Surrounded by graffiti-sprayed garage doors, CHAoS iN fORm is one of the area’s hippest boutiques. Their racks are stuffed with everything from haute couture to carnival outfits and beloved by a hipster clientel. Live mannequins can best be spotted during evenings. It’s hard to miss their well-groomed appearances, quirky fashion statements, and organic noshing habits.

Speaking of noshing; Burgermeister serves some of the best burgers in Berlin. Housed in a small shack, sheltered by overhead U-bahn tracks and flanked by busy Oberbaumstraße, it is the perfect urban setting to reflect on the day’s encounters and experiences. Are you, like me, travelling on a budget? Pizzeria La Romantica wins you over on its richly-topped 3-6 euro pizzas. However, don’t let the name lure you into bringing a date; it simply doesn’t deliver on romance. Instead, take your date to Treinta Y Seis; their affordable Mexican dishes and hot sauce, will fire up the conversation. When craving German classics (think Frankfurters, Schnitzels, and Strudels) there are basically two options: fine dining in traditional Kattelbach or finger-licking grub at Frau Rauscher’s.

After dinner the neighborhood comes to life as nocturnal party flocks, varying from smooth mid-town folks to eccentric youngsters, find their way to two of the city’s biggest night clubs: Tresor and Watergate. Spooky and industrial-looking Berghain is located a stone’s throw away. Temper illusions of busting your signature moves on the clubs’ dance floors; it’s notoriously hard to get past the giants at the door. Kicked up too much of a fuss? Hide from angry bouncers in one of Kreuzberg’s superb underground bars. Try Madame Claude for a truly disorienting experience: it has an upside down interior! Café Wendel is an excellent runner-up. Sink into retro sofas and sip their quirky Gekko Mate soda. If you think dancing fiercely burned enough calories to treat yourself to a late night snack, Delikato’s kebab brings you that much closer to heaven.

Sehraya shisha lounge in central Kreuzberg offers a more relaxing environment. Its two-story Middle-Eastern interior is both atmospheric and incredibly kitsch. They offer more tobacco flavors than I can name fruits, and their menu is perfect for some Egyptian treats or nachos. Others might prefer an alternative film screening in Central Kino. To get there, duck into a narrow alleyway on Rosenthaler Straße (in Berlin Mitte) and pass metal artworks and mustached men.

Although the virus that covers buildings with  graffiti and infects humans with artistic juices has spread to adjacent Neuköln and north-west Wedding, Kreuzberg remains home to Berlin’s alternative spirit. For years the area has been presenting itself as a greased up laborer but, much like the undercover bosses in the eponymous TV show, finally reveals to be an upright power house of Berlin neighborhoods.