Are you a restaurant junkie? Do you like unique eating experiences in funky places? Me too. Expats are lucky people because they often have many opportunities to find the fabulous and the flaky in their foreign environments.

One steamy African morning in tropical Accra, the capital of Ghana, my prince and I are on our way to have a unique eating experience, or so we are told. It’s Sunday and American friends are showing us where to find a really great English breakfast. It’s at the Pit Stop, a car repair shop—the place where you take your vehicle when a wheel falls off, or your engine rattles its death song. Yes, this sounds a bit bizarre, but there it is. You come across lots of wacky places and eccentric people when you live in far corners of the world. It’s wonderful.

The Pit Stop has an eatery and a bar tacked on, and is owned by a Brit who has lived in the country for decades. This British watering hole is a well-kept secret, not in the guide books, and is difficult to find unless someone guides you there. The owner does not advertise and apparently does not have to.

We shudder up a dirt road, and turn right into the car repair yard, quiet now because it is Sunday. Several dead vehicles have found a final resting place here, covered in gray-brown dirt and missing major pieces of their anatomy.

Off to the right I see a black cooking pot balanced on a wood fire, tended by a barefoot woman wrapped in a cloth. “Suppose this is breakfast?” I whisper to my husband.

At the end of the shop yard we spot a verandah with white plastic chairs and some eight tables covered with blue table cloths. The verandah has a cement floor and a shade cover of tattered woven mats. It runs along the front of what looks like a regular house with the door and window shutters painted a cheerful red.

A middle-aged man with thin, blondish hair and the florid face of a drinker sits alone at a table, consuming a huge plate of food. He doesn’t look up when we come onto the verandah, just keeps on shoveling in the grub as if he just stumbled in from the dessert and hasn’t eaten for weeks. He looks English, wearing short shorts, his socked feet stuck in leather sandals.

At another table sits an overweight young blond volunteer-type woman in baggy shorts and a faded T-shirt, reading a paperback book. She wears no makeup, her hair is scraggly and in need of a trim. The slovenly state of her appearance indicates she’s given up worrying about it. I envy her. She’s got courage. Sometimes I want to give up too, but then I want to stay married, so I put up a bit of a struggle which is not easy in this hot, humid climate that zaps you of every ounce of energy. Every morning I spend at least four minutes putting on makeup and so far so good; my man comes home every night.

Two tables are pushed together for our party. A cheery Ghanaian girl, fresh as a daisy in a white apron, gives us a menu—a single sheet in a clear plastic cover. We study the possibilities and since this is clearly a British food mecca, we go for the full English breakfast, which includes eggs, sausages, bacon, tomatoes, baked beans and fried bread. We sit back and enjoy the unique car yard ambience. A cat slinks around the rusting vehicles. In the corner a disconsolate gray parrot sits quietly in a cage, a piece of bacon untouched on the bottom.

An outside bar is on the left, featuring high stools and a wall of bottles promising joy and oblivion. It’s ten in the morning and a lonely drinker is already peering silently and morosely into a glass. Could be tonic water.

Clearly this is not McDonald’s or the International House of Pancakes.

As we wait, more and more people arrive, almost all English-looking expats. A couple of young westernized Indian men, snappily dressed, make an energetic entrance. A young Ghanaian woman sashays to a table accompanied by a seedy expat male of a certain age. The bar fills up, the tables fill up. Our food arrives.

Indeed, a full English breakfast, looking very appetizing. We dig in and yes, it is all delicious. Meaty bacon, flavorful sausage, properly cooked eggs. The coffee is even good!

A man comes striding across the car yard and up onto the verandah, greeting various people who obviously know him. He’s wearing jeans, has a cocky walk and acts like he owns the place. His age-tortured face is ruddy, his sunken eyes are red. One might wonder if his night has been busy and on the short side. He gives us a polite good morning and disappears into the house.

Finished eating and ready to leave, I notice the kitchen right off the verandah. I poke my head around the corner. It is just a regular house-kitchen, not bigger than my own, but all burners of the standard stove are going. A big toaster-oven type grill sits on the counter with its tray full of browned sausages pulled out, ready to go. Two people are busy frying eggs and French toast, and I tell them I just wanted to let the cooks know the food was delicious. This is only part of the truth, of course. I wanted to see the kitchen, just in case it might be note-worthy—you know, have some features that would entertain or repel you, or my friends at home, who are always eager to hear horror tales. (Un)fortunately, no horror tales here.

I did not inspect the bathroom; that will wait until another time. I want to come here again for a weekday lunch with friends. I’d like to see the car mechanics in action while I sample the beef sandwiches, supposedly very good.

Who says the Brits can’t cook?

Note: Just so you don’t worry about it let me tell you that Accra has any number of proper restaurants, where one can eat lovely food, but really, how interesting are their views?

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Have you eaten in unusual places? Please tell all and entertain us!

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VanGogh_Slaapkamer_in_Arles_300x238_textDon’t you love taking risks? It makes life so exciting and interesting! Okay, I’m not talking about the risks of the life-and-death variety, but the small ones that might land you in less dangerous waters. Such as finding a bed to sleep in when you take a trip, a place to stay for a few nights or weeks.

You surf the Internet. You look at pictures, read descriptions, and evaluate reviews. I’m not a fan of chain hotels, the ones that look the same the world over and where when you wake up in the mornings you can’t remember what country you are in. But finding non-standardized sleeping quarters via the Internet can land you in unsavory situations, as indeed it happened to us once. Mostly, though, we have had good luck finding cool places in various countries. Once we stayed in a renovated chapel in Italy, sleeping in what once was the sacristy. It was fabulous.

Onward: One day, wanting to take a break from our hectic life in our French village, we decide to spend a couple of days in the nearby town of Arles where Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh sojourned for some time, painted many pictures, and cut off his ear.

I apply my surfing skills and find something promising, an exotic looking B&B with a home gallery of contemporary photography. It has three rooms and is located in the historic center of Arles, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The B&B house is built on top of the ruins of the Roman baths of Emperor Constantine. Everything worth seeing is within walking distance. How cool does that sound? No, Tripadvisor has no information and no reviews, which is where the risks come in, right? But I tell you, the pictures and descriptions on the site seduce me.

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I send off an email and reserve a room. What is life without a bit of risk? Maybe the mattress once belonged to Constantine. Maybe the shower offers up nothing but a drip. Maybe the place is… Well, you fill in your worst fears.

The day arrives and we drive to Arles. The place is a warren of narrow streets and we crawl along, our GPS leading us astray with gusto, suggesting illegal turns and pointing us down blocked allies. We get lost and run around in circles. Finally we manage to find a parking space nearby.

We are warmly greeted by our hostess and we enter a building centuries old. We climb a narrow, curving staircase sporting a small jungle of potted plants on the steps. Interesting artwork decorates the walls. Already I am charmed by what I see.  Our hostess opens a door.

The bedroom (photo above) is a symphony of color, a burst of joy and cheer, decorated with objects from the owners’ travels in North Africa and beyond. The bathroom offers an explosion of brilliant shades.

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Everything is fresh and clean, the bed comfortable, the ambiance enthusiastic. Every detail has been lovingly chosen and applied — door handles, light fixtures, waste baskets, wall decor. Really, who wants a room in the Marriott?

Our night is restful, not haunted by the ghosts of souls who wandered these ancient floors in the past. Nothing mysterious bubbled up from Constantine’s baths below the floors. In the morning we climb up another set of narrow stairs to the kitchen and find another festival of color–wall paint, cushions, dishes, and art objects. If you suffer from depression, this is the place to be.

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We share the table with a lovely Korean couple on their honeymoon. We have fresh croissants, crusty bread, butter, jam,  good coffee, and interesting conversation.

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The hostess speaks French, English and Spanish, and we hear her story about the trials renovating the house, about her life and travels in other countries, about a Swedish couple who wouldn’t eat her French breakfast because they wanted fish. {Sheesh! You’re in France! Eat croissants!)

There is more, much more, but I’m going to stop here so you’ll just have to find out for yourself: Go get a room!

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Have you ever stayed in a fun or unique place? I’d love to hear about it!

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