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
EC2A 3DT
Email: info@alternativeldn.com

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.

Appartamento Plum – newly restored apartment that sleeps 6 with two bathrooms, just a few blocks from St. Peter’s.  From €136-182 per night, depending on the number of guests.

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:

 

 

Best places to stay around Rome’s Termini Station

Termini gets mixed reviews.  Many tourists read that it’s a dangerous neighborhood, and many residents, at least those that don’t live near Termini, agree.  But the truth is, in 2000 during the Jubilee Holy Year, most of the neighborhood was redone – millions were invested into new facades and many of the old pensione were renovated.   Reputations are hard to change though, even if they aren’t warranted.

The benefits to staying around Termini are many:  it’s often considerably cheaper here than in other parts of the city; getting in and out of the city by train is easy, so that you don’t have to navigate the crowded buses or metro with suitcases; and no matter where you are in the city, you can always find your way back to Termini easily.  It’s technically in the center of Rome (within the Aurelian walls) and you can walk to the Colosseum/Forum in about 25 minutes, or the same to the Trevi Fountain/Spanish Steps.  It’s probably the most well connected neighborhood in the city as a whole.

The area to the North of Termini is nicer looking though.  For those that know about our hotel, The Beehive, this is where we are located.  Most of the neighborhood is filled with office workers and students during the day, and hotel guests at night.  There are a few streets, right next to Termini, that have a lot of foreigners so you’ll see kebab, Bangladeshi laundromats, etc.  Yet you’ll also see restaurants that have been around for 60+ years with the same families in them.  Speaking of restaurants, even though many are tourist traps, they are often filled with Italians at lunch.  There are two street markets (one small one on Via Milazzo, and a larger one on Via Montebello) with fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as a few traditional bakeries, salumerie, a couple of excellent gelaterias near each other (Come il Latte on Via Silvio Spaventa and La Romana on the corner of Via Piave & XX Settembre) and one of the oldest wine shops in Rome (Trimani on Via Goito).

From the least expensive upward, here are my favorite Cross-Pollinate places in this neighborhood that always get positive reviews, north of Termini – rates quoted are based on high season:

B&B Atos – doubles from €80/night with ensuite bathroom and breakfast voucher at a nearby cafe:

 

Rome Best B&B – doubles from €85/night with ensuite bathroom and breakfast voucher at a nearby bar:

 

Simon’s Suite Apartment from €108/night for 2 guests:

 

Wellness Inn B&B  €130/night for a double with ensuite bathroom and breakfast included:

 

The area just South of Termini has a few blocks that have not been renovated as much and in recent years have had many traditional shops taken over by Chinese wholesalers.   Despite some grunge around here, there’s also some of the gems, if you know where to look.  There’s the Roscioli bakery on Via Buonarotti, which has some of the best pizza bianca and suppli in the city.  There’s Trattoria Monti, one of our favorite restaurants.  And there’s Mercato Esquilino – for food lovers and people watchers, this place is a real find.  You can also splurge and get a pricey cocktail on the rooftop bar of the Radisson SAS hotel on Via Mamiani.  The area is a closer walk to the Colosseum and Forum, as well as the hip and historic neighborhood of Monti (about 15 minutes away by foot) and there’s a few metro entrances for the red line/Line A at Piazza Vittorio which can make it easier to navigate than the metro station at Termini.   In this area, there are a lot of good, inexpensive accommodation with lots of character:

Frank’s House from €75/night, run by an expat New Yorker and his wife:

 

L’Altra Luna from €75/night for double with ensuite bath, breakfast, and use of the kitchen:

 

Clover Guestrooms from €80/night with shared kitchen – these rooms are managed by us through The Beehive.

 

Meltin’ Rome from €80/night:

 

Mr. Frills B&B from €90/night:

 

Walter’s Studio from €95/night:

 

For more information about the neighborhood, be sure and check out these posts from The Beehive’s Blog:

Is Rome Safe?

What’s Around The Beehive?

Putzing Around Piazza Vittorio

The Best of Piazza Vittorio – 3 food tips

 

 

Best places to stay in Rome off the beaten path

There’s more to Rome than Piazza Navona!  Although it’s beautiful in the historic center, there are some setbacks:  older buildings can have bad plumbing and limited power supply.  The prices are higher, in the summer there can be loads of tourists (and lots of noise along with them), and sometimes it’s hard to find restaurants that aren’t overpriced and touristy.

We don’t suggest anything on the site that’s so far out of the center that it would make it difficult to sight-see and visit Rome as a tourist, but there are some areas we love that aren’t on most tourist’s radar and that have some great options for accommodation.  Our favorites are:

Laura’s Mini-studio in Pigneto for just €49/night (for 2 guests):

 

Abbraccia Morfeo B&B with beautiful double rooms from €56/night, also in Pigneto:

 

La Lupa in Trastevere Guesthouse (actually in Monteverde) near the famous Porta Portese flea market and a short tram ride away from Trastevere, has doubles with bathroom from €68/night:

 

Armando’s Belvedere in the student quarter of San Lorenzo near Termini, with doubles from just €50 euro/night:

 

B&B Tata near the San Giovanni metro (and a new metro line opening soon) with doubles that average around €80/night even in high season:

 

Nomentana 1 and 2 bedroom apartments near Porta Pia (about a 20 min. walk north of Termini) – with multiple apartments in the building, these are also a great option for larger groups.  Prices start at €85/night for 2 guests and go up to €180/night for 6 guests:

 

For more information on this last neighborhood, Trieste, check out this blog post of ours.

For a little video on Pigneto, have a look at this video from our friend and food expert, Katie Parla, who gives her tips for where to eat and drink in Pigneto here, and promotes off the beaten track neighborhoods in general here.