Alternative London – Street Art Tour and Graffiti Workshop

Both my daughter and I have been to London before.  We’ve seen Big Ben and St. Paul’s Cathedral, have visited the Tate Modern, and have walked the Portobello Road market.  We had a number of nights in London this trip, just her and I, and were looking for something different – something we could do together, and couldn’t do at home.

We were happy to find out about Alternative London and get off the beaten track into one of my favorite neighborhoods,  Shoreditch.  We decided on this particular tour and workshop because we liked the idea of doing and not just seeing.  We wanted to be exposed to something cultural, but also to create something.  Extra points went to the fact that it was one of the most affordable things we did on our trip (£25 per person for a 4/5 hour tour and workshop).

Organized by Alternative London, a local artist’s cooperative who do a variety of artistic tours and workshops – art walks on the streets and in local galleries, as well as bike tours and food/pub crawls.  We booked on-line through their website for an 11am Saturday tour with a meeting point by the Old Street tube station on the Northern Line – easy to get to from anywhere in London (took us about 20 minutes from Soho).

Our guide, Rae, an artist/skater who is clearly passionate and deeply involved in the local art scene, told us all about the history of graffiti and street art, and the differences between the two, in an intelligent, animated, and entertaining way.  She touched on the political and the economic messages without any hint of preachiness.  She was thought provoking and light hearted at these same time.  She was great with her subject, but also great at connecting to all of us on the walk, something that not all guides do well.

After the walk, we took a short break to get something eat, and then after a brief lesson on stencil making, retired to their double decker art bus to get started making our own.

She then gave us a demo of different techniques for spray painting and we took turns on a few boards outside before working on own stencils.

Those of us who wanted, had the option of buying a canvas bag or t-shirt for a few extra pounds, to paint our stencil on.

London  has a lot to offer and the choice of museums alone can be overwhelming.  If you want to do something that supports the local art scene, gives you a street-eye view of what’s going on, and makes you really feel the pulse of the East Side, this is a great, affordable thing to do.

Plus, you get to take home your own handmade, one-of-a-kind souvenir.

Alternative London
The Alternative London Bus
1-3 Rivington St

Scooterino – Scooter Ride Sharing in Rome

I get excited about things that make life easier – even if they’re very simple and don’t really make life that much easier.  From low-tech office supply stuff, to great high-tech smartphone apps, I’m just attracted to the idea of things being efficient and functional.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered the Scooterino App for Rome.  It’s basically a ride sharing service for scooters.  When you need to get somewhere, you open the app, which knows where you are, and you put in your destination.  It gives you an estimate of cost, and shows you where nearby drivers are and how long it ought to take for them to reach you.

I’ve basically been dying to try it out and the other day I finally got my chance.  It was 4:00pm and I had to get from The Beehive Hotel near Termini to a lawyer’s office in the neighborhood of Parioli.  By bus it would have taken me 1,50 euro and approximately forever.  By taxi, it would have probably been 10-15 euro and slightly less than forever.

On the scooter, it was 3 euro, and took about 15 minutes, and was a fun ride.

 As far as essentials, the driver provides you with a helmet and a little skull cap to wear over your hair under the helmet.

Getting around Rome can be tough.  Public transportation is unreliable and crowded.  Taxis can be expensive and time consuming, especially if you’re alone.  Scooterino is the way to go.

As a tourist, if you’re feeling a bit adventurous and want the quintessential Roman experience – this is a great option to get from Point A to Point B at the lowest cost!  For a more comprehensive and guided scooter experience check out the folks at Scooteroma tours.

Download Scooterino here in the app store. 

Best places to stay in Rome’s Historic Center

by Amy Knauff

If you ask a Roman to explain the different neighborhoods of the city, you will probably get a lecture about rioni and municipi, which are the administrative divisions of the city. Basically, Rome has 15 different municipi that make up the city: the historic center is contained within Municipio I. Within Municipio I, there are different rioni, neighborhoods. The term rione evolved over time from the Latin regio, and the exact names and boundaries of the different rioni have changed slightly over time as well. Today, there are 22 different rioni, each with its own coat-of-arms. For example, the 2nd rione of Rome is Trevi, and is, of course, the area around the Trevi Fountain.

Now that the mini geography lesson is over… nobody (not even most Romans) really follows the names or exact geographical boundaries of the rioni to a T these days – they simplify things by referring to a neighborhood as the area around a well-known monument or square. For our purposes, the main neighborhoods of the historic center are: Piazza del Popolo/Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, and Piazza Venezia/Jewish Ghetto.

The Piazza del Popolo/Spanish Steps are grouped together because they’re so close and the area where any accommodations might be is basically between the two (bordered by Villa Borghese to the northeast and the big shopping street that runs down the middle of the historic center, Via del Corso, to the southwest). This area is upscale with a lot of fancy stores and restaurants, and the Italian families that live around here tend to be on the wealthy side. That means the apartments available for rent are usually (but not always) on the upper end of the price range, but they’re also really beautiful and well-maintained – in other words, worth it!

Appartamento Capo le Case – this is a really reasonably priced option in the Spanish Steps neighborhood, especially for the area and quality of the apartment, that sleeps 2-4 people, ranging from €125-145 per night.

We don’t have many properties in the Trevi Fountain area, and I couldn’t really tell you why – perhaps it just so happens that most of the apartment owners there prefer to live in the neighborhood instead of turning their apartment into a private rental; perhaps it’s a somewhat less residential area in general (as it’s now full of shops, restaurants, hotels, etc). Either way, on Cross-pollinate we have relatively few apartments in that area, but since it’s a sought-after neighborhood, the ones we do have get snapped up right away.

Appartamento Rasella – just a few minutes from the Trevi Fountain, this 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment sleeps up to 4 people and costs €136-159.

The next neighborhood, the Pantheon area, is right in between the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona. The area comprises the streets directly around the Pantheon and also those directly to the north (most Romans know it as the Campo Marzio area, and the area also includes one of the Italian Parliament buildings, the Chamber of Deputies). The streets around here are mostly small, winding, and cobblestoned – typical of what you’d imagine when you think of Rome. The Pantheon is of course the centerpiece of the neighborhood, but the nearby square with Hadrian’s Temple (now the home of the Italian stock market) is also impressive.

Appartamento Oblò – this is a sweet little find for a couple or a family, ranging from €90-110. It’s small but nicely set up and tucked just behind the Pantheon on a quiet, narrow street.

Continuing to the west, there’s the Piazza Navona area. The streets around this area are, much like the Pantheon area, small, winding, cobblestoned, picturesque. Besides the usual collection of restaurants, shops, and hotels, there are also a few streets in this neighborhood that are particularly known for antique shops (Via dei Coronari) and vintage/secondhand clothing shops (Via del Governo Vecchio). These streets are great for wandering around and getting lost.

Appartamento Minerva 2 – on one of the most picturesque streets around Piazza Navona, Via dei Banchi Vecchi. A 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment sleeping up to 4 people for €137-159.

A short walk from Piazza Navona (crossing the main thoroughfare Corso Vittorio Emanuele II) is Campo de’ Fiori. This square is famous for its fruit/vegetable/flower market during the day, and its nightlife at night. The streets in this area are, again, picturesque, historic, and great for getting lost.

Appartamento Sant’Andrea - about halfway between Campo de’ Fiori and Largo Argentina, and close to the ruins of the Teatro di Pompeo, this is a bigger apartment with a picturesque balcony that can sleep up to 6 people, ranging from €142-165.

And finally, the Piazza Venezia/Jewish Ghetto area – grouped into one neighborhood because of their proximity. Accommodations could be just around Piazza Venezia (on the side opposite the Roman Forum), around Largo Argentina (a square with ancient ruins where Caesar was murdered – which, by the way, is now a cat sanctuary), and the Jewish Ghetto, the neighborhood just to the south of Piazza Venezia and bordered by the river on the south. Accommodations very close to Largo Argentina and Piazza Venezia could be on busy, trafficked street, but ones in the Jewish Ghetto – which was, of course, once the ghetto where Jews were forced to live, and is today still the home of a large Jewish community – are on more picturesque, cobblestoned streets. The area is actually very quiet compared to the rest of the historic center and although it gets busy at mealtimes because there are excellent restaurants, there’s no real nightlife (that’s across the river in Trastevere, or over by Campo de’ Fiori) so it’s a great area to stay in.

La Casa al Portico – this is right next to the impressive Portico d’Ottavia, an ancient monument in the Jewish Ghetto, and also less than a block from the synagogue. It sleeps up to 4 people for €165 per night.

Best places to stay around the Vatican

by Amy Knauff

When we talk about staying “around the Vatican”, we’re actually talking about a rather large area that comprises a few different neighborhoods, each with their own distinct character.

The most picturesque and historic neighborhood by far is Borgo, which is basically a few long streets running between St. Peter’s Basilica and Castel Sant’Angelo, bordered by Piazza Risorgimento on the north and the river on the south. Originally called Leonine City, because it was within the Leonine Walls, the neighborhood got its name from German pilgrims who called it Burg, which then became Borgo in Italian. Stunning Castel Sant’Angelo is technically part of the Borgo rione, although locals tend to consider it part of – and probably the highlight of – the next neighborhood, Prati.

Prati is just north of Borgo, so still very close to St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums (about 10 minutes walking). The area is quite residential, with larger, more modern buildings (from the late 1800s, after the unity of Italy) – so it has a very different feel from the cobblestones and centuries-old buildings of Borgo. It’s still a great area to stay in, in my opinion: you are close to the Vatican, within walking distance from the historic center, and it’s a residential area with lots of Italian families living there, so you have plenty of good, authentic restaurants, coffee bars, and shops. Plus, the metro is nearby (Ottaviano and Lepanto stops) so it makes it easy to get everywhere.

The “Vatican Museums” area, also called Trionfale by locals after the main street Via Trionfale (so named because the Roman emperors used to return to Rome from their military campaigns in northern Europe on a triumphal march down that road), is just to the west of Prati. The buildings in this area are from the fascist period in the early 1900s, so even more modern than Prati (and in my opinion, not particularly attractive or charming). Having said that, it’s still a very convenient area (close to Cipro metro stop, plus St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums, of course) and it’s also very residential, so you get a feel of what it’s like to live as a local.

And finally, there’s the neighborhood just to the south of St. Peter’s, often referred to as the Gregorio VII area by locals (again, named after a main street, Via Gregorio VII). This area is sort of connected to the Trionfale area as it’s all part of the area behind St. Peter’s (imagine a sort of half-moon shape facing right, just behind St. Peter’s, as you look at a map). Many of the buildings are quite new (some as recent as the 1960s), and were built up around the St. Peter’s train station – which itself was built in the 19th century as a “countryside” train station, because at the time the area was farmland. The area also used to be a center for brick and clay factories, before it was residential, hence the name of one of its main streets, Via delle Fornaci (Street of the Furnaces).

We have properties in all of these neighborhoods, ranging from budget to fancy, from B&Bs to private apartments:

Agnese Guesthouse – a cheap, clean, basic option in the Gregorio VII area, close to a bus stop, from €46 per night for a double room.

Ricchi’s B&B – double room for €75 per night in Gregorio VII area. The highlight of this property is the owner, Rosanna, whose grandmotherly treatment of her guests has gotten her place rave reviews for years.

Le Finestre di Luz B&B – an excellent value and one of our favorites. Close to Castel Sant’Angelo for €97 per night.

Small Luxury in the Vatican B&B – another great middle-range option, also €97 per night for a double. Super close to St. Peter’s and just on the “border” between the Borgo and Prati neighborhoods.

Casa Yellow Vaticano – a full 1-bedroom, 1-bath apartment sleeping 2-4 people from €128-162 per night. Right next to the Vatican Museums.

La Cupola Vacation Home – an elegant, homey apartment on Via delle Fornaci, just a 5-minute walk south of St. Peter’s. Sleeps 2-4 people, from €95-155 per night.


Best places to stay in Trastevere

by Amy Knauff

Full disclosure: I live in Trastevere myself, so I’m biased about the area. Having said that, I can honestly say that if I were visiting Rome for the first time (or second… or third…) , I’d love to stay here.

You only need to look around at the architecture to see that Trastevere is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. It truly feels like it’s from a different time, with buildings of all different sizes and built at different times crammed next to each other on narrow, winding cobblestone streets.

There’s not much vehicle traffic on most of the small streets so it ends up being a largely pedestrian area. It’s got loads of excellent restaurants, coffee bars, gelaterie, and wine bars (there are plenty of subpar touristy ones too, so you have to know what to pick). It has its own train station with a train that goes to Fiumicino airport every 30 minutes, so if you’re flying into/out of FCO, it’s super easy to get there. And best of all: it’s within walking distance of pretty much anything you want to see in the center of Rome (less than 40 mins by foot from the Vatican, 20 mins from the Colosseum, 10-30 mins to other tourist sights in the historic center), while still being slightly off the tourist (read: expensive) track. If you like to walk, you may never have to set foot on public transport during your stay.

I’ll be honest about the downsides of Trastevere, too: there’s no metro stop particularly close to the area, so if you’re coming to Rome in/out of Termini station, you have to take a bus, which can be a pain. I wouldn’t bother staying in Trastevere for just 1 night if your exit/entry point is Termini – too inconvenient. Trastevere is known for its nightlife (it’s pretty quiet in the daytime), so some areas can be really loud and crowded – which is a lot of fun, but just make sure you don’t book a place, say, right on Via della Lungaretta, which is packed with people walking, talking, and generally making merry until late at night.

Trastevere can be divided into two parts – or three, some might say. The two sections of the main area of Trastevere are west and east of Viale Trastevere, the big street with the tram line that cuts the neighborhood into two parts. The area west of Viale Trastevere (around Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, the hub)  is the more popular area for going out at night. The area east of Viale Trastevere (around Piazza di Santa Cecilia) is the quieter, more residential side of Trastevere, so it feels more “authentic” somehow. It still has some restaurants and night spots, and therefore some noisy tourists out and about, but it’s not packed with them like the other side is.

The third part of the neighborhood is close to Trastevere train station, going away from the historic center and the river. It’s still considered Trastevere, but it’s the less picturesque, slightly more modern part of Trastevere. The buildings tend to be taller and a little newer, the streets are more trafficked and less cobblestoney, and it doesn’t have quite the same charm as the “main” area of Trastevere. Having said that, it’s still convenient because, of course, it’s near the station, and the tram line 8 takes you right up to the “old” Trastevere (5 mins), across the river, and into the historic center (10-15 mins).

We work with places to stay in all three of these areas of Trastevere, and some of our favorites are:

La Bernardon Guesthouse – double rooms for 80 euros a night with ensuite bathroom and breakfast, close to the San Cosimato outdoor market and near via Roma Libera, where there are lots of good wine bars and restaurants:


La Casa di Kaia from 51 euros a night for a double room with shared bathroom, just a block from Santa Cecilia church and on one of Trastevere’s quietest streets:


Burns B&B – one double guestroom, with friendly American host Marisa, for 85 euros a night with ensuite bathroom:


Truly Trastevere Studio Apartment , a typical charming old Trasteverean apartment, for 95 euros a night:


Ecostudio Trastevere Apartment, right in the heart of things but luckily spared from the street noise, for 90 euros a night:


Appartamento Fabrizi – a one-bedroom apartment, located in a truly unique apartment complex, for 105 euros a night:


Suite Trilussa – a classy studio apartment around one of Trastevere’s favorite squares for 115 euros a night: