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.

 

 

 

Best places to stay around the Colosseum

The little neighborhood just behind the Colosseum is called Celio and it’s the first neighborhood I lived in as an official resident in Rome (so I have a soft spot for it!).  Although small, the neighborhood is a real, living neighborhood, and not just a tourist trap, despite being so close to such a famous monument.  There’s a small street market, a few coffee bars, some great restaurants, including Pizzeria Luzzi on the corner of Via dei Normanni and San Giovanni in Laterano.  There’s the metro line B/blue line nearby, and the lovely little park of Colle Oppio, which was built out of the remains of the Baths of Trajan one of the three largest public bathhouses in ancient Rome.  In Colle Oppio,  there’s a small outdoor cafe, a great place to have an evening aperitivo.  There’s also the Villa Celimontana a beautiful public park with a children’s play area and pony rides.  There’s lots of green and it’s tucked away and quite peaceful for being smack in the middle of a busy area with lots of excellent spots to have a picnic.  If the neighborhood isn’t lively enough for some, you can walk to the other side of the Colosseum to the hip and historic neighborhood of Monti, which is just as picturesque as the area around Piazza Navona, but with better restaurants and less crowds.

Some of my fondest memories are of taking my first daughter when she was 2 years old for evening strolls around the Colosseum to people watch, then to a small cafe called “Cafe Cafe” on SS Quattro, for a glass of port (for me) and some milk and cookies (for her).  Having the Colosseum and the Roman Forum practically as your back yard is pretty memorable, and these places to stay, are definitely affordable, unique and spacious:

Elsa’s B&B with double rooms for €85 /night:

 

Appartamento Colosseo – sleeps up to 5 guests.  Prices start at €95 /night:

 

Appartamento Marco Aurelio for €95 /night for 2 guests:

 

 

Exploring the Gràcia neighborhood in Barcelona

Guest post by Linda Martinez

Barcelona has been on my radar for a long time so when a good friend from Bali asked me to meet up with her there for a few days in December, I couldn’t resist.  As I do in all new cities we visit, I checked Context Travel’s site to see if they had any tours going on while I was in town.

It’s amazing how many savvy travelers I know still have an outdated concept about walking tours.  Sure, there are still the huge groups with the person in front leading the crowd around with an umbrella.  Context’s tours are the complete opposite of this experience.  Think instead of a small group of no more than 6 people and visiting the city with a friend who is an art historian, archaeologist, etc. who is passionate about their field and who has all kinds of inside and interesting information about the place you’re visiting, its residents and the culture.  This is what you’ll experience on a Context tour.

I was staying in the Gràcia neighborhood and my friend was moving to Barcelona and was interested in that neighborhood as a possible place to live. She was leaving the planning of our couple of days together up to me, so I decided on Context’s tour:  “Gràcia and the Spirit of the Catalan Independence”.  Our docent was local Biel Heredero, a young native of Barcelona who is an art historian very active in the local arts scene and extremely knowledgeable about Catalan history and culture.

Our tour started at on the steps of the Virgen de Gràcia Sant Josep church.  This church built in 1626 gave the Gràcia area its name.

 

The majority of the works of architect Antoni Gaudí are in Barcelona and the association between the two is very strongly linked together.  However, we learned that he was not the only Modernista architect around.  The beautiful Casa Ramos was designed by Jaume Torres I Grau in 1906.  The Estelada – the flag of the Catalan separatist movement – hangs everywhere in the Gràcia neighborhood which many would consider the revolutionary heart of Barcelona.

Casa Ramos

 

My friend and I both wanted to see some Gaudí buildings though, but we were more interested in some of his lesser known buildings.  Biel did not disappoint and took us to see Casa Vicens – Gaudí’s first important work built between 1833-1888 and a residence for the owner of a tile & ceramic factory so the reason for all the tiles covering the building.  Since tile was an expensive material to use as decoration, not only was the tile easily accessible to him as a tile manufacturer, but it also showed off his wealth to the outside world.  Apparently the inside is just as beautiful, even more so according to our docent Biel, and Casa Vicens will be open to the public in 2016.

Casa Vicens

 

Plaça del Diamant is where there are entrances to underground bunkers that were in use during the Spanish Civil War and can be viewed by appointment.  There is also the bronze statue of Colometa, the protoganist in the 1962 novel by Mercè Rodoreda, “La Plaça del Diamant” translated into English as “The Time of the Doves” – the most famous Catalan book ever published and a must read/rite of passage for all school kids in Barcelona.

 

Continuing our walk in the Gràcia we encountered another Modernista building in Plaça de la Virreina which shows a style unique to Modernista architecture – sgraffito.  Sgraffito was a form of wall decoration in the 18th century that involved scratching through a top layer of plaster to reveal a different layer of color below. There is lots of attention to detail including tile mosaics on the underside of the balconies.

 

On we went to Plaça dela Revolucio.  In this square we found beautiful painted tiles formed into a hopscotch pattern – known as xarranca in Catalan.  This figure shows the various characters and elements that make up the annual La Mercè or Festa Major de Gràcia street festival – a huge festival celebrated every August in the Gràcia neighborhood that features competitions between various streets in the neighborhood, workshops, activities, and parades with the biggest parade of the festival featuring the Gegants (giants), the Castellers (the human towers), the Caps Grossos (big heads) and the Dracs (dragons).

 

In a building facing the clock tower at Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia, you can view some of the huge papier mache heads and figures that make up the Gegants and  Cap Grossos (Giants & Big-Heads).

 

In the center of  Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia is the symbol of the Gràcia neighborhood – this clock tower built in 1862 survived bombings from federal troops when the Gràcia neighborhood attempted secession in the late 1800′s.  The neighborhood has always been and continues to be a hotbed for Catalanism and dissension.

 

Despite its serious revolutionary history and vibe, the Gràcia really impressed me as a peaceful oasis in a sprawling city.  Kids played in the streets and the squares, couples and groups of friends hung out in cafes and families strolled or sat and chatted.  There were lots of great restaurants and there is a definite “green” ethos to the neighborhood with lots of organic markets, shops and restaurants.  As a vegetarian, eating was easy for me here despite the meat and fish heavy tendency of cuisine in Barcelona.  In fact, two of the best meals I had were in this neighborhood:  a vegetarian paella at L’Arrosseria Xàtiva and at La Pubilla, a restaurant where absolutely every dish had meat in it, the chefs whipped together a special dish not on the menu that was made with egg, mushroom and vegetables and was mind-blowingly delicious.  For that dish alone I’d come back to this neighborhood, but despite that the Gràcia is definitely an area of Barcelona worth spending a lot more time in.

Places to Stay:

Cross-Pollinate properties in the Gràcia neighborhood:

Studio Maignon

The following properties are in the southern part of the Gràcia neighborhood bordering the L’Eixample neighborhood:

Passeig de Gràcia Suite 34

Passeig de Gràcia Penthouse 51

Passeig de Gràcia Terrace 42

Passeig de Gràcia Residence 33

Linda, along with her husband Steve, is the owner of The Beehive Ho(s)tel in Rome.

 

What to See on Barcelona’s Montjuïc Hill

by Jessica Infantino Trumble

Many people who visit Barcelona may overlook Montjuïc. Often overshadowed by the over-the-top Modernista sights that the city is known for, Montjuïc offers visitors a respite from the tourist-filled streets, not to mention a great view of the city. What’s event better is that many of the sights on Montjuïc are free, making for an affordable and laid back day of sightseeing in Barcelona.

While Montjuïc has everything from recreational areas to museums, many of the sights that remain today are a result of 2 major events – the 1929 Worlds Expo and 1992 Summer Olympics.

A Fortification High Above the City

Long before these 20th century events, the hill was anchored by the Montjuïc Castle. Not your typical castle, the star-shaped fortress dates back to 1640 has served as a defensive fort, a prison, a military museum (which was inaugurated in 1963 under Francisco Franco) and now a municipal facility.

Only the shell of the original structure remains, but the Montjuïc Castle is still a worthwhile sight to explore, especially for its commanding views overlooking Barcelona and its harbor. And if you happen to visit in the summer, you can catch a movie in the moat during an open-air film festival at the castle.

Barcelona as the World’s Stage

The 1929 Barcelona International Exposition put Montjuïc on display for the world to see. This was Barcelona’s second go at hosting the Worlds Expo (the first was in 1888), and Montjuïc was chosen as the site because of its availability of space.

Planning began in 1905, led by Modernista architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, targeting 1917 for the event, which was postponed more than a decade due to World War I. As you may expect, the Worlds Expo had a huge urban impact throughout the city – buildings were remodeled, metro lines were extended and the funicular that is still used today to reach Montjuïc was constructed in anticipation of the event.

That year, 20 countries participated in the Worlds Expo, each with a dedicated week to “show off”. While many of the pavilions and sights were never intended to be permanent and were torn down shortly after the event, a few exceptions remain today.

Starting at the top of the hill, the Palau Nacional was the grand exhibition hall for the event and is now home to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) with an impressive collection of art from the 10th to the 20th century. As you descend down the hill, notice the grab bag of architectural styles and elements, from the neoclassical columns (representative of the Catalan flag) to the Venetian towers that flank the entrance of the exhibition area (modeled after St. Mark’s in Venice). Even Plaça d’Espanya at the bottom of the hill drew its influence from St. Peter’s in Rome.

The Barcelona Pavilion designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe housed the German exhibition during the Worlds Expo. This decidedly modern building is one of the most significant pieces of architecture from the 20th century, promoting the idea that “less is more”. Simple in form, the structure includes a “floating roof” and furniture that Mies van der Rohe designed himself. Like other pavilions, the original structure was torn down but later rebuilt in the 1980s following Mies van der Rohe’s original design.

By contrast, the elaborate CaxiaForum across the street is an example of Barcelona’s Modernista architecture designed by Puig i Cadafalch. Formerly a textile factory, it now serves as a free museum and cultural center. Other sights that remain from 1929 include the Magic Fountain, with nighttime water and light shows that still wow crowds, and the Spanish Village that was designed to show off different styles of the country’s architecture. When you reach the bottom of the hill, you won’t be able to miss the Las Arenas Bullring, which was turned into a shopping mall after bullfighting was banned in Barcelona in 2010.

Let the Summer Games Begin

The 1992 Summer Olympics was a good excuse to spruce up Montjuïc for a new wave of visitors. In fact, the site was chosen because it already had a stadium that was originally built for the 1929 Words Expo.

In fact, the site was chosen because it already had a stadium. Originally built for the 1929 Worlds Expo (for games between the participating nations), the Olympic Stadium was also intended to host an anti-fascist alternative to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which never happened due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. It was also used as a staging area for cars during the Spanish Grand Prix in Montjuïc in 1975.

The exterior you see today is original, but the interior was completely rebuilt to accommodate 65,000 spectators for the 1992 games, and the stadium has since been served as a venue for events ranging from football to concerts. Fun fact: Michael Jackson performed a concert at the stadium as part of his Dangerous Tour in 1992.

Other sights in the “Olympic Ring” include indoor arenas, swimming and diving pools, as well as the 446-foot tall Communications Tower. Designed to resemble the body of an athlete, the tower was used to broadcast coverage of the games around the world. The 1992 Olympics hosted athletes from 169 countries and was such a hit that Barcelona soon became one of the most visited cities in Europe after Paris, London and Rome. Also nearby is the Olympic and Sports Museum, celebrating the 1992 games and Olympic history, and the Fundació Joan Miró contemporary art museum dedicated to Barcelona’s homegrown artist.

Getting There and Around

There are several different ways to reach Montjuïc, whether you choose to start at the top and work your way down or vice versa. Most of the sights are within walking distance of each other, but there are also several bus lines (#50, #55 and #193) that run through Montjuïc.

  • Take the L2 or L3 metro line to the Paral-lel stop, then follow the signs along the path to reach to reach Montjuïc Castle (it’s about a 15 to 20 minute uphill walk). Alternatively, you can take the Montjuïc Funicular (covered by your metro ticket) from the metro station to the top of the hill.
  • Take the L1, L3 or L8 metro line to the Plaça d’ Espanya stop, which drops you off at the entrance of the Worlds Expo area.
  • Alternatively, there’s also an aerial tramway (which was intended to be a tourist attraction for the Worlds Expo but didn’t open in time) that runs across Port Vell between Montjuïc and Barceloneta. While a little pricy, it is a novel way to reach the hill with great views as you cross the water.

For more useful tips about Barcelona from Jessica, check out these posts, from her blog:

Modernista Barcelona in 6 Hours

Rambling Down La Rambla in Barcelona