View from Naseem Hotel, Muscat
I stayed in a lot of places during my 2016 Favourite Aunties and Old Comrades Reunion Tour, ranging from haybarns and broken-down fleapits to a fancy-pants eco-resort. Because everyone loves a list here's a rundown of the best and worst places I stayed...
The title for best view goes to Naseem Hotel, in Muscat, Oman. Accommodation in Oman didn't come cheap (18 rials, almost NZ$80 a night) so when I booked a bed I demanded a room with a view. The photo above is the view from my window over Muscat's old harbour, mountains, a medieval fort and the Sultan's private yacht.
Best free accommodation
Prize for best free lodgings goes to this hay barn in the hills of Maramures, northern Romania. Warm, dry and comfy, and check out the view that greeted me when the mist cleared in the morning.
No, we're not talking about Amsterdam, but a hikers' hut - refugio in Spanish - at 1634m in the Picos de Europa mountains of northern Spain. Cold but the views were awe-inspiring.
In the breakway statelet of Transnistria, sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine, I stayed in this flashback to the Soviet Union. The Hotel Aist has not been redecorated or repaired since the collapse of the USSR in 1991 - though the staff were super-helpful, not a typical Soviet characteristic. Felt like I was time travelling.
Hotel Aist in Tiraspol, Transnistria
View from my balcony (yes, I had my own balcony!) towards the River Dnister
During a washed-out folk festival in Romania's Apuseni Mountains I was pretty desperate for a dry place to sleep. The few B&Bs in the nearby villages had been booked out weeks earlier and the rain was too heavy for a heavy-duty tent to withstand, let alone the flimsy sheet of plastic and bits of string I'd brought along... Luckily I found a dry spot above a chicken coop (the lean-to tacked on to the side of the barn in the photo below) where I sheltered for two nights. I'm sure the farmer knew but he was too decent to kick me out.
This coveted title goes to IQ Hostel in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. This wee hostel - two cramped dorm rooms, with an equally crowded living room, kitchen and bathroom is owned by two young men with their friends and cousins helping out as staff. I've never stayed in a backpackers hostel where the staff were friendlier, more helpful or more concerned for my welfare. After a few days I felt like family. Saying goodbye was tough.
IQ Hostel staff Alex, Dana and Daniel.
Runner-up in the friendliest accommodation category goes to the super-obliging Murugo Hostel in Kigali, Rwanda.
Evode, a worker at super-friendly Murugo Hostel in Kigali, Rwanda.
The most luxurious place I stayed was Butuceni Eco Resort in a village in Moldova. It's a cluster of historic village houses, each of which has been turned into a villa combining creature comforts with traditional decor and furniture. It's the only place I've stayed where I could choose between indoor and outdoor pools; the other guests were wealthy Russians. By Moldovan standards it was a bit of a splurge but it didn't cost much more than a bed in a backpacker's hostel in Western Europe. And it was a lot friendlier...
Traditional Moldovan breakfast at Butuceni Eco Resort
The balconies at Belayneh Hotel, in Harar in eastern Ethiopia. look out over the fantastically lively Shoa Gate Market. I could have sat on my balcony for days just watching the comings and goings of tuktuks, beggars, women dressed in colours like tropical parrots, porters balancing stacks of mattresses on their heads, and buyers and seller haggling over chat (a mildly narcotic leaf). I say I could have watched for days - but I didn't because the Belayneh also won the prize for worst bedbugs. They were even bigger than the cockroaches.
View from Belayneh Hotel in Harar, Ethiopia.
This hotly contested title goes to the Continental Hotel (yes, that really is its name) in Dire Dawa, eastern Ethiopia. The lights and fan were operated by sticking a bare wire into a socket, the windows were broken, and with no running water I had to fetch a bucket of water any time I wanted to wash or flush the communal loos. I wouldn't have minded except that they had the cheek to charge me an inflated foreigner rate of 150 birr, about NZ$10.
Continental Hotel in Dire Dawa, eastern Ethiopia
The night after the Continental Hotel I stayed in Africa Hotel in Axum, northern Ethiopia. For 200 birr (about NZ$12) I got a large room so clean I could have eaten off the gleaming floor, an en suite bathroom with unlimited running hot water (!) and free airport pick-up and drop-off.
Africa Hotel in Axum, northern Ethiopia
The prettiest place I stayed was Rowda Cultural Guesthouse in Harar, eastern Ethiopia. This is a traditional, centuries-old home turned into a B&B, with a peaceful courtyard and every square inch of the interiors decorated in the age-old Harari manner with carved bowls, spears, baskets and carpets. I was made to feel at home - at least, I was made to feel like a 12-year-old when I was still at home... Harar is a conservative town and Rowda sets a 9pm curfew (which I ignored). Worth it though to get a first-hand look at a traditional home.
Inside Rowda Cultural Guesthouse, in Harar, Ethiopia
The courtyard of Rowda Cultural Guesthouse