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

London to Paris on the Eurostar

by Jessica Infantino Trumble

Crossing the English Channel is easier than you may think thanks to Eurostar’s high-speed trains, which began service between the UK and Continental Europe more than 20 years ago. In general, trains are a quintessential part of European travel and can often be more reliable and economical than flying. So if you want to enjoy breakfast in London and lunch in Paris, the Eurostar is a good option to maximize your time while minimizing stress and hassle. Here’s what you need to know.


Eurostar tickets go on sale 120 days in advance and become more expensive the closer it gets to the departure date. So book early, or as soon as you know your travel plans, to ensure you can travel on the day you want at the best price. You can purchase tickets online through Eurostar’s website to print out at home or pick up at the station (select your country at the top of the page to pay in your currency), or you can book through third party sites like Rail Europe  to have paper tickets shipped in advance of your trip. It’s important to note that there is an hour time difference between London and Paris, so keep that in mind when buying tickets.


The first Eurostar trains ran between Waterloo in South London and Gare du Nord in Paris.

However, today trains use London’s St. Pancras International following the completion of its £800 million renovation in 2007. Dating back to 1868, the station’s glass and steel train shed interior has been beautiful restored and passengers now have access to amenities ranging from free Wi-Fi to the longest champagne bar in Europe. There are also plans for Paris’ 150-year-old Gare du Nord, which first opened in 1864, to undergo a €48 million facelift in the future.

Pre-Boarding Experience

You need to check in for Eurostar trains at least 30 minutes in advance, but don’t worry it’s a much more low-key process than what you would experience at the airport. Lines are shorter, you don’t have to check your bags and you can leave your shoes on. At St. Pancras station there is plenty of signage directing you where to go. Scan your ticket at the automated check-in gates, quickly pass through x-ray screening and passport control and then sit back and relax in the lounge area. Once your track is announced (generally about 15 minutes before departure), make your way up to the escalators to the platform.

Onboard Experience

The journey between London and Paris takes less than 2 1/2 hours on the Eurostar, which reaches a top speed of 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph). After you settle into your rather roomy seat (as compared to airline standards), gaze out the window and watch the English countryside give way to darkness as you enter the English Channel Tunnel (or the “Chunnel” for short). Surprisingly, this underwater part of the trip is only about 20 minutes. Note that not all trains are direct, so check the timetable carefully before making your reservation. You also have the choice between 3 classes – Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier – the latter 2 of which offer more amenities like power outlets and regionally-inspired meals, so choose accordingly if this is important to you. All Eurostar trains are non-smoking and include 2 buffet cars with drinks and snacks for purchase regardless of class.


The biggest benefit over flying is that the Eurostar takes you from city center to city center, so you can hop off the train and hit the ground running. Taxis and public transportation are readily available at both train stations. In Paris, Gare du Nord is a major hub for regional RER lines (which connects to Charles de Gaulle airport) and D, metro lines 4 and 5, as well as several other suburban and high-speed trains heading north. St. Pancras in London connects with the King’s Cross St. Pancras Underground station (which serves the Circle, Hammersmith and City, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria tube lines) and several other train lines including both the Heathrow and Gatwick Express trains to the airport.

Other Destinations

In addition to the London-Paris route, the Eurostar also has a train that takes you from London to the Brussels-Midi/Zuid station in about 2 hours with a stop in Lille, France along the way (again, don’t forget about the time zone difference). There is also a direct train from London to Disneyland Paris, perfect for a family daytrip with kids. On weekends in the winter, the Eurostar operates a weekly ski train to the French and Swiss Aps, and there are other seasonal trains to the South of France in the summer, with even more routes coming soon. And even though you’re likely to never run out of things to do in London and Paris (and yes, sitting in a café sipping your beverage of choice is a perfectly acceptable activity), the Eurostar can be your gateway to other parts of Europe. The sky, or rather the rail, is the limit.

Read more of Jessica’s travel tips for London, Paris, and Belgium on her blog Boarding Pass.

20% off Select London Flats for August

For the month of August, check out the following flats offering a 20% discount!

The Framery Flat 1 – £125/night – £100/night (sleeps up to 3 people)

The Framery Flat 2 – £125/night – £100/night (sleeps up to 3 people)

The Framery Flat 3 – £125/night – £100/night (sleeps up to 3 people)

The Framery Flat 4 – £159/night – £127/night (sleeps up to 3 people)

The Framery Flat 5 – £142/night – £114/night (sleeps up to 2 people)

The Framery Flat 6 – £142/night – £114/night (sleeps up to 2 people)

The Framery Flat 7 – £142/night – £114/night (sleeps up to 2 people)

Shoreditch 1-bedroom Flat – £165/night – £132/night (sleeps up to 3 people)

Regent’s Canal 3-bedroom – £278/night – £222/night (sleeps up 6 people)

Apartment Angel – £182/night – £146/night (sleeps up to 4 people)

The Framery Loft – £300/night - £240/night (sleeps up to 8 people)


To see all our London properties, click here.



Shoreditch – The Coolest Neighborhood in London’s East End

by Steven Brenner


There’s something about the East Side of many cities that sounds unsavory.  Who knows why – maybe historically it comes from the wind’s direction, blowing bad smells from nearby industry toward the East, or maybe it has something to do with the current of the Thames and the crap it would wash up down shore to the have-nots.

Whatever the reason, the East End has typically been considered the less salubrious part of London – and perhaps many East Sides worldwide have inherited that same reputation.



But these are also the areas that have the wealth of ethnicity and the youthful artistic flair to be transformed into the kinds of fashionable neighborhoods I hunt for – neighborhoods with small, non-corporate businesses; artistic industry and the people who work in them.  In London, this is what you find in Shoreditch, the area just north of the City of London’s financial district which has been undergoing gentrification since the late 1990′s.



Shoreditch (the name may even come from a variation of “Sewer Ditch”) is technically in the borough of Hackney, and includes Old Street Tube station, Shoreditch High Street, Brick Lane (the Bangladeshi area made famous by Monica Ali’s novel of the same name), and Hoxton.  At its borders are Islington to the north and Liverpool Street station in the south, which is right at the edge of the City of London.

Here’s some of the great things about the area:



Boxpark, a pop-up mall made from shipping containers.  Ok, it’s a mall, but I have to appreciate how much it deviates from the typical model of a shopping mall.



Columbia Road flower market.  On Sundays this outdoor market is as alive as can be.  Again, it’s lots of shopping, but mostly vintage, food, flowers and it’s all outside and convivial with lots of great people watching.



Brick Lane.  Once the slums (and apparently the scene of Jack the Ripper’s murders), it’s now an entire universe of ethnicity.   This is the place to come for a Bangladeshi curry.  It’s punks, street art, music, street food, vintage, and sometimes so crowded you can barely walk down the street.



People watching.  There are some people in Shoreditch who are so cool, there isn’t even a name for their fashion sense.

Old converted warehouse buildings make the best lofts and restaurants.  Nearby, an old Framery from the 1920′s was converted into a group of funky flats:


Flat 1 – £125 a night

Flat 2 – £125 a night

Flat 3 – £125 a night

Flat 4 – £159 a night

Flat 5 – £142

Flat 6 – £142

Flat 7 – £142 a night

Loft – £301 a night up to 8 people


Vietnamese food. When Shoreditch High Street becomes Kingsland Road you’re in Vietnamese heaven. If you have yet to be completely converted to the wonders of Pho – a Vietnamese noodle soup, you’ll need to plan a little visit here.




Shopping. Yes, there is plenty of vintage, but there is literally everything else too. If you’re looking for something unique, something you can say you bought in London and not just anywhere else in the world, you’ll probably find it here. There’s also a number of semi-outdoor markets, such as the Spitalfield Market.



More cool places to stay in the area:

Shoreditch Studio for £119 a night

Shoreditch 1 bedroom for £165 a night

Victory Chambers 2 bedroom from £160 per night

Broadway Market from £95 per night

Getting around London

by Steven Brenner

London is a big, spread out city.  Much of it is walkable, but there’s no one area you can stay in where everything will be close by.  Luckily, the variety of transport options are easy to use and reliable.  So let’s get familiar with them:


I’m not particularly athletic but I can walk around a city all day.  It’s definitely the best way to see things, but also the most tiring.  In London, I use a combo of an actual paper map that you can buy at any newsagent for under £2; the Map app for iPhone; and the Citymapper app, which tells you not only how far it is to walk, and how long it ought to take you, but how many calories you’ll burn. When you stuff your face like I do when traveling (ok, I do it at home too), this added incentive really makes an hour walk seem more reasonable.



These are, of course, the best way to get around if you just want to get to your destination with as little effort as possible.  For such compact cars, they are very spacious – the back of the cabs have a bench seat that sits 3 and two “jump seats”.  They face each other, limo-style.

They can either be booked in advance or hailed on the street or from designated taxi ranks.  There’s also the Hailo app for iPhone.  It’ll figure out where you are through GPS and get a cab to that spot with just a few clicks.  Payment can either be done in cash or you can set it up with your credit card and pay through the app.

Here’s numbers for the different taxi dispatchers:
One-Number Taxi:    0871 871 8710  All London
Call-A-Cab:    020 8901 4444  All London
Computer Cab:    020 7908 0207  All London
DataCab:    020 7432 1540  All London
Dial-A-Cab:    020 7253 5000  All London
London Black Taxis:    07779 336 612  Pre-booked trips for all of London
Radio Taxis:    020 7272 0272  All London
Taxi Call Wimbledon    0208 099 7711  Wimbledon and surrounding areas
Xeta:    0845 108 3000  All London
There is a charge when booking by phone and other terms and conditions may vary so please check when booking.

You can also book a taxi using Twitter at @tweetalondoncab – more info at



I get car sick easily, so I usually avoid buses, but I love London’s iconic double-decker buses.  Sit up top right near the huge windows in the front and get a great bird’s eye view (low flying anyway) of the city.  Buses use the same ticket system as the underground (see below).  You can also buy them on the bus itself, but it’s a bit slow and makes me feel like I’m holding everyone up.  Some stops have machines right outside at the bus stop as well.


Underground (Tube)

Over 400 kilometers of track, the London underground can boast being the first underground railway, opened in 1863. The lines are all color coded and have names, such as the Central Line (red) and District Line (green).  The direction you want is not necessary designated by the last station.  Instead, you have Eastbound, Westbound, Northbound and Southbound trains.  Sometimes, if the train changes direction, you might have to rethink whether it’s Northbound or Eastbound, but for the most part it’s pretty clear when you get to an intersection in the tunnels and have to chose which direction you want to go in – the stations are listed on the wall so you can figure out which way to go to get to the right track.

The best way to tackle the Tube is to buy an Oyster card.  Once you enter an underground station, go to a self-service machine and select a “new card”.  Put on however much you want – 5, 10, 20 pounds, for example.  Five pounds will be used toward a deposit on the card, and the rest will be applied toward bus and subway rides (which vary depending on where you’re going).  You can pay with credit card, or in some cases, cash (it says on the machine at the top what it accepts).  The card will then work to get you through the turnstiles until you run out of credit (at that point the light will flash red instead of green).  When this happens, simply return to the self-service machine and swipe your card and top it back up.

Here’s the awesome bit – when you’re done in London you can return the card and get any unused money back, plus your £5 deposit.

You can get more info and figure out which lines you need and the prices here:



This app really is the best thing ever.  Put in the address you’re going to and it’ll calculate every possible way to get there from wherever you are (including fun ones like “jetpack” or “catapult”). You’ll get a breakdown of how long it would take, and how much it would cost, either on foot, cab, bus, or subway.

Select the one you want and it’ll give you detailed instructions.  Once you arrive at the end of the public transport route, it’ll give you walking directions the rest of the way.  And it’s free!


Airport to City

London Heathrow (LHR) is connected to the city by the Underground.  London Gatwick (LGW) is connected by a commuter train called the Gatwick Express which runs every 10 minutes or so to Victoria Station (travel time 30 minutes).  You can buy the tickets from money changers at the airport too and will get a discount if you buy round trip (£31.05 r/t if you buy online in advance).