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Having just returned from there, I am sharing with you today a summary of our Croatian diary.

Like other European countries, Croatian cities (or at least the ones I saw – Dubrovnik, Split and their islands and surroundings) have preserved their old town cachet. More than in any other place I’ve been to, I’ve enjoyed walking inside the old city walls, and we had so much fun visualizing the lives of their ancestors walking on those same stones we were exploring.

If you’re heading to Croatia anytime soon, here are some tips for things to do.

Dubrovnik

Sleep at

If you happen to be a fan of guesthouses and Bed & Breakfasts, I suggest you book a room at Pupo Rooms or at Guesthouse Perica (both found on booking.com). Those are 2 of the loveliest guesthouses I have ever been to. Their hosts are so cute and helpful you won’t want to leave.

Eat at

Seafood ant meat stew are your typical Croatian/Dalmatian food. For lunch, just grab a few things from a nearby supermarket and head on an island for a nice picnic and swim. For dinner however, a nice meal in the Old Town is just lovely. We strongly suggest: Wanda Restaurant and Lady Pipi.

See

You should definitely buy a ticket to be able to walk the Old City Walls. It’s an hour walk, overlooking the whole city and it’s just amazing! You also shouldn’t miss the panoramic city view from the Dubrovnik cable car.

Do

Head to Dubrovnik’s lovely islands! The closest one is Lokrum, where you can sit around all day just relaxing by the sea. Just don’t forget to take your picnic with you as there are no restaurants on the islands except one and it’s just too touristic. One other beautiful island we visited was Mljet, 2 hours and a half away by boat. When you get there, buy your tickets to the national park and head to the lakes. It is just so calm and beautiful you’ll want to stay there forever.

Split (and surroundings)

Sleep at

Most of the people we met in Split were, like us, sleeping in Podstrana, a small village ten minutes away from the center of Split by bus. If you can get a good deal at Le Meridien, or at The Residences (right next to it), you’ll find the perfect place to relax and enjoy your vacations.

Eat and Drink

For lunch, a good pizza slice will do the trick. What is better, is also a traditional ćevapi – which resembles our version of Kebab, but with an absolutely tasty homemade bread and relish. You can have the best ćevapi at a small place called Kantun Paulina. For dinner, you must try Bajamont, a traditional domestic food place in the middle of Old Town Split. Lovely and yummy! And for my birthday, we enjoyed – among other delicious things – a great Croatian Bouillabaisse at Paradigma.

See

Walk around the old city center of Split and enjoy the history.

Do

You can also head to Hvar or Brač for a day on an island or even take a one-day boat trip on a katamaran (make sure to book your places a few days in advance at the Split port). Marjan is also a nice area to spend the day at the beach.

Here are some pictures. I will let them speak for themselves! Enjoy 🙂

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Old Town Dubrovnik
lokrum-island-picnic-dubrovnik-croatia
Picnic on Lokrum Island – Dubrovnik
Mljet-dubrovnik-island-croatia-2
Beautiful National Park Mljet Island – Dubrovnik
Mljet-Dubrovnik-island-croatia
Mljet
dubrovnik-old-town-port-croatia
Old Town Dubrovnik Port
Dubrovnik-view
Dubrovnik view
lokrum-island-dubrovnik-croatia
Lokrum
old-town-dubrovnik-croatia
Old City Walls walk – Dubrovnik Old Town
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Split Architecture
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Podstrana beach
Kantun-paulina-split-croatia
Kantun Paulina for the best Ćevapi – Split
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Split Architecture
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Bajamont – Split
Bajamont-split-dalmatian-seafood-stew-croatia
Dalmatian seafood stew – Bajamont – Split

 

For the end of 2013 and a colorful start of 2014, we decided to spend 5 days in Istanbul. Having been there before, we went further than the touristic places and explored the city as it is meant to be explored. We re-experienced the city’s dramatic street food scenery, ranging from mussels, to wet burgers (yes), kumpir, “lahmbaajune” and kokoreç (pronounced kokorech, from Balkan and Anatolian origin, it’s mainly the lamb’s intestines, cooked. It sounds horrible but it is really delicious, especially if you’re a spicy lover).

 

If you’ve been a Breadonbutter reader since its start, I had already written about a weekend in Istanbul and its street food a year ago (click here for images). But this time, I’m offering you a full guide for 5 days in the most significant city in History. Vibrant, crowded, and exotic.
First and foremost, choose your hotel. Istanbul is evolving as a trendy and very design-oriented city. We chose the Raven Suites Istanbul on booking.com and it turned out to be a delight. The staff is really friendly and the interior of the suites -that can easily pass for your own little furnished apartment during your stay- are furnished with carefully chosen items that make them unique. Here are some pictures.

Now for Day 1:

Raven Suites is situated next to Istiklal Street and we had just arrived on Saturday morning. So after checking the rooms, settling our bags and changing, we headed for Istiklal. We had a walk through all of it, had stuffed mussels in one of the perpendicular streets next to a place called ‘Champion’ (you can ask anyone there, they’ll guide you), all the way to Taksim, where we grabbed a wet burger and took a taxi to NiÅ›antaÅ›e (pronounced Nishantashe) where we sat in one of the street cafes for a delicious glass of wine. While you are there, do not miss the ‘City’s’ Mall food court.
Stuffed Mussels
City’s Food Court – Nisantase

At night, ‘Istanbul Modern’, a traditional Turkish food with a modern twist fusion restaurant right on the Bosphorus, is the ideal dinner destination for your first day.

 

Day 2:
After grabbing a “Simit” from one of the ‘Simit Sarayi’ branches that you can spot anywhere, head to Sultanahmet for touristic places, if you havent’t been yet. You just have to visit Agia Sofia and see Topkapi’s view. And make sure you grab your bag of Castana (chestnuts) to go with your takeaway tea.
Next, head to the Grand Bazaar and get lost in it, bargain, have fun, then ask your way to a restaurant called ‘Hamdi’, who serves one of the best lahm baajun ever made. Spicy lovers, it’ll make your day.
Your late afternoon can be a walk from Istiklal Street to the Galata Tower, visiting shops and buying cute souvenirs, and end with a drink and wine tasting at ‘Sensus’, facing the Galata Tower.
The Galata Tower
Sensus

On your way back, a delicious Sahlab from ‘Mado’ on Istiklal would be a perfect warm end of the night.

 

Day 3:
For the best breakfast experience, grab a cab and let him take you to ‘Sutis Emirgan’ on the second Bosphorus bridge. Make sure you get your order of “burek”.

After breakfast, head to Ortakoye by bus or by taxi (watch the insane traffic if it’s a Sunday), catch the Bosphorus boat ride, then sit back in one of the cafes and order a mixed Kumpir (i.e. a potato stuffed with all the possible toppings you have ever known).

Istanbul’s skyline viewed from the boat
Kumpir and Efes beer

At night, you can have a drink at the ‘360’ bar right on Istiklal Street and enjoy the spectacular view. If you can make it an early drink and watch the sunset, it would be better.

View from ‘360’

For dinner, you can either grab mussels again or spot a place called ‘Saray’ and order a delicious “Iskandar Kebab”, which is kebab served on yogurt and bread.

Day 4:
‘Gram’ is one of the cutest places we’ve been for breakfast. You just have to look it up and try their menu of sweet and salty items and enjoy their interior. Below are some pictures of the place.

 

During the day, just walk around, explore the shops and the food and discover the city, for at night, a mini trip to the Asian side would be great, especially if you have Turkish friends who can guide you there. We had a literally giant kebab at ‘S&K;’, Asian side. I will let the picture explain it.

 

Day 5:
On day 5, I would advise you to retrace your favorites spots and places and go through them all one more time before you leave.
During this trip, I learnt the importance of perspective. The thing is, you should always look at things through different perspectives every time. And you will see that this world, no matter how much you think you know it, is full of surprises.
To finish this in a fun note, here’s an entertaining video I made of Istanbul. I hope you enjoy it 🙂
//www.youtube.com/get_player

Every culture has its own way of interpreting one dish. They all add their twists and spices, making it particular to their tastes and habits. Restaurants too have to gratify the palate of the people they are serving. One thing I’ve noticed about Italian restaurants in Beirut is that they add crème fraîche to a lot of their pasta sauces. Almost all Italian people I’ve met are quickly revolted by the act of adding cream to pasta sauces. They also consider the use of a spoon to roll your spaghetti as a disgrace. But here in Beirut, it is considered to be the proper practice of eating Italian food. Where did these habits come from you ask? From restaurants, of course. Who started it?  I think it’s a chicken and egg type of story.

But it’s safe to say that the way the Lebanese have adapted Italian food has somewhat strayed away from the original cuisine. So because we can’t go to Rome everyday (check out 20 Things about Rome), we’ve been on a quest for ‘real’ Italian restaurants in Beirut.

My judgment of ‘what makes a restaurant Italian’ is personal but of credible experience. I’ve been to Italy a lot, read about their food, talked to people and been in their kitchens, cooked a carbonara and more with them, and visited their restaurants accompanied by locals.

In my mind, the ones that serve the famous spritz or bellini have the knowledge, the ones that serve dishes cooked with fresh ingredients have the quality, and the ones that present the place and the dish well have the honesty and authenticity.

There are many criteria that can lead you to judge a restaurant as being typically Italian and accordingly, I’ve ranked the top 10 I’ve tried in Beirut, keeping in mind that all of their menus contain dishes adapted to the taste of the Lebanese audience (hospitality rules oblige).

#1 Harry’s Bar

harry's bar | breadonbutter

 

Harry’s Bar is my recent favorite. It is THE place to fine-dine, enjoy great wine and beautiful dishes. The staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable. The sommelier recommends excellent wine and the service is the most professional I’ve seen in a while. When it comes to the food, you won’t regret one bite of it. Apart from being exceptionally tasty, every dish is carefully crafted and full of colors. The presentation clearly reflects their recent Michelin Star touch. Don’t hesitate to go there for a nice, romantic dinner or even for a business lunch, where you’ll find a set menu for the circumstance. Make sure to try their Fleur de Courgettes with ricotta cheese, beef carpaccio, beetroot risotto and panna cotta. An unforgettable Italian experience in the heart of Beirut.

Harry's Bar Beirut | BreadonbutterHarry's Bar Beirut | BreadonbutterHarry's Bar Beirut | BreadonbutterHarry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter

#2 Totò Cucina Italiana

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from Zomato

When walking into Totò, you’re struck by the simple yet uplifting décor. The way they managed to give an identity to the place while keeping the original charm of this old house is admirable. Waiters and staff are not only nice and helpful in your choice of dishes, but they also have a sense of humor. Their seafood risotto is one that I won’t forget. I also love their pizzas and their Totò Express concept upstairs for a more relaxed dinner experience or for takeaway and pizza night at home.

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from paperblog.com

#3 Marinella

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from their facebook page

Every time I visit Rome, I go to my favorite place (Vicolo 88) for an absolutely delicious Spaghetti al Vongole. In my mission to find it in Beirut, it’s at Marinella that I discovered one very close to the taste I never forget. The interior is refreshing and the changing menu gives you the certainty that their ingredients are freshly picked. The presentation of their dishes is lovely and the waiters are friendly and professional.

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from their facebook page

#4 La Traviata

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from their facebook page

La Traviata doesn’t serve pizza but they sure make it up by serving the freshest pasta dishes in town. If I’m looking for a place to have a calm, relaxing lunch or dinner with a good dish of traditional pasta, this is the place I think of. They also have generous service, offering bites and nibbles before your order comes through, and great knowledge about Italian wine. Oh, and no ketchup allowed! Their carbonara, tiramisu and most importantly their tortellini al cioccolato are a must-try.

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from their facebook page

#5 Cucina – Downtown

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo by fromagesandfridays.com

The best thing about Cucina is its location. Located in the most modern and trendy part of Beirut, it’s a good place for hip lunches in the sun and dinners. The staff is welcoming and friendly. Their appetizers and risottos are a good choice followed by pain perdu for dessert, which is worth a try. I’m heading there for a friend’s birthday tonight to enjoy a nice setting for this special occasion rather than the relatively average food.

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo by zomato reviewer

#6 Al Dente Restaurante – Hotel Albergo

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from whereleb.com

Al Dente’s risottos are a must-try as well as their desserts. This hidden place gives a feel of authentic old Italy mixed with a refined character. Their appetizers include the famous Melanzane gratinate alla Parmigiana and Mozzarella di Buffala which is one of my favorite mozzarellas. It’s an excellent place for a special occasion.

#7 Dottore L’antica Pizzeria

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter

Dottore is the type of place where you go for comfort food and good wine. Burrowed in one of Hamra’s inner streets, it’s the perfect place to spend a cozy night with a few friends. All you need is their wooden-oven baked pizzas, the spinach crepe and really good Italian wine that the staff will perfectly recommend, and you’re set for a great night.

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter

#8 Mario e Mario

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from their facebook page

Nestled in one of the inside streets of Mar Mikhael, Mario e Mario offers a very special menu. Get ready to taste dishes you haven’t before, as this fine-dining Italian knows how to use fresh ingredients and transform them into a beautiful and innovative dish. The place is charming and romantic and the table is set with special little touches. I also love the use of fresh ingredients in all of their dishes. You’ll also be very happy with their famous olive oil and bread served before your main order.

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from their facebook page

#9 La Posta

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from their facebook page

If you’re planning on booking a night out at La Posta, make sure you ask to be seated outside. The staff shows gusto for Italian food, and their pizza is not too thick or too thin. Their portions are generous but you can be sure you’ll get a refined presentation. Go for a seafood linguine with a nice wine or head there for Saturday brunch with friends or family.

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from their facebook page

#10 L’Osteria

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from their facebook page

If you’ve been to Italy, you must be familiar with the Aperitivo concept. L’Osteria is one of the rare Italians in Beirut that master the Spritz and its accompaniments. Their dishes are also appetizing and typically Italian. You can head there around 7 pm for a fresh Spritz and a cheese/cold cuts platter. They also serve homey dishes that will satisfy your tasty Italian food cravings.

Harry's Bar Beirut | Breadonbutter
Photo from their facebook page

Any Italian place to add to the list?

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Back in Rome last August (click here for more details), we fell in love with this place my sister had recommended (here). On the day we stumbled upon Sant’Eustachio Caffé, we weren’t really looking for it, but just the sight of it made us feel like we had reached an oasis in the middle of the August heat. Once we’d taken a seat on one of the tables outside, we quickly learnt the difference of price between being served outside or just having a quick coffee inside, standing at the coffee bar. We opted for a seat, 1 cold coffee for me, one fresh Kampari/Orange for Jean and both of our captivating books. I can still feel the charm and pleasantness of it all 🙂

sant'eustachio | breadonbutter

Sant’Eustachio Caffé is located in the heart of Rome, just minutes away from Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, facing the actual Basilica named for the martyr of Saint Eustace. We went there twice while we were there for a nice coffee a l’italiana. When you enter to order, you learn the charming story of this place.

sant'eustachio | breadonbutter

Sant’Eusatchio has been successful and crowded since 1938. Kissinger and many other international famous people have visited it. I say Kissinger because the owners are so proud of his visit that they hung the newspaper story about it on the wall and on their website (you can see the picture below).

sant'eustachio | breadonbutter

Sant’Eustachio is not merely a Coffee shop, but also a Roaster. Brothers Raimondo and Roberto Ricci began running the Caffè in 1999 to continue the family tradition of selecting coffee varieties and offering a range of product prepared with a legendary secret blend. Their priority is only one: ensure consistent quality. The Sant’Eustachio coffee blend is made with the best Arabica beans. The raw coffee is slowly roasted over wood.

sant'eustachio | breadonbutter

You can of course sit down for a nice cup of coffee but you can also purchase it and make it at home.

All the coffee varieties, roasted, washed and selected, are top quality. The freshness and the high quality of the product guarantee an ever fresh fragrance and a quintessential aroma which cannot be found in the coffees of large-scale retail trade.

sant'eustachio | breadonbutter

Of course, the place is now more touristic and more expensive than typical Italian coffee places, but in my opinion, at least one visit there would be a nice addition to your trip.

Another great thing about Sant’Eustachio Caffé is their Buon Caffé initiative

The Buon Caffé Program is an initiative by Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè. The Program consists in donating the extra proceeds from the sale of the traditional Sant’Eustachio Blend to COOPFAM, the Brazilian Fairtrade certified co-op from which Sant’Eustachio  buys coffee. The protagonist of this initiative is the consumer who, through a traceability procedure, can actually control the use of the proceeds.

sant'eustachio | breadonbutter

Have you been to Rome? Any other places to recommend?

So here we go! First day back to normal after all the holiday (beautiful) madness and emotional rollercoaster that comes with this time of year.

New year, new us? Well, I don’t really think so. I’m kind of happy with my current me; I don’t really want to be a new me; this must mean I’m doing SOMETHING right, doesn’t it? I’m truly grateful for everything I have and don’t want things to change.

Back in August, we decided with my sister to spend a long weekend in Prague. We’d never seen the city and its always been on my list, so off we went! In the weeks leading to our trip, we infinitely pinned things to do and places to see in one of Europes most magical cities. One pin led me to a food tour. I’d always wanted to see cities through the eyes of locals and discover how they spend their time, their weekends and holidays. After a bit of research, I found a tour called Prague Food Tour. From their website, we saw that it was something simple, fun and truly local. The guides were Leona and Georges and we were set for a few hours around local places.

Ten years ago, I went on a road trip from London to Amsterdam then Paris with friends. I was studying in Exeter at the time, and short trips around Europe were a must. So off we went, in the middle of the night. While on the bus from Amsterdam to Paris, we passed by Brussels. I got to see the Manneken Piss (peeing boy statue) and thought it was enough for Belgium. I had heard from people that the manneken was the only thing to see there, so I was content I could check Brussels off my list.

That was until my mom and her friend returned from a Euro trip last week, having spent two days in Brussels.

Lately, the country’s agricultural economy has been suffering. We’ve been cultivating amazing produce when it comes to fruits and vegetables and farmers are now capable of exporting their goods and therefore make our economy better. What I understood is that things are apparently not working properly to encourage and allow those farmers to export their goods and expand, or even sell locally due to all imported goods we get. I don’t know the story very well, but I know we – the Lebanese people – have been encouraging the production of our apples for over a month now. Every Lebanese person I know has cartons and cartons of apples at home. Apple pies, apple cakes and apple crumbles are THE go-to desserts this fall.

Mykonos or any other Greek island for that matter 🙂

Last week, I had the most relaxing time in Mykonos with my aunt, mom and sister. It felt so refreshing to be on a trip where all we could do was laze by the sea and walk around a town full of happy people on holiday.

We basically perfected our tan, swam in the freezing, clear water of the Aegean sea and walked around the cutest and most preserved island town I’ve ever seen.