Where to stay near Fiumicino Airport

by Amy Knauff

We normally advise against staying near the airport: there are only big chain hotels; there’s not a lot to do or see, as the airport is kind of in the middle of nowhere; and it can be expensive considering that, if you don’t have a car, you really have no choice but to eat all your meals in the (inevitably overpriced) hotel restaurant.

Recently, though, we’ve come across a B & B that may have made us change our minds. While Fiumicino still isn’t exactly a hotspot of exciting things to do, it could be the perfect spot for an easy, relaxing night before you have to take a morning flight.

Bed & Breakfast L’Isola is actually located 2 kilometers away from Fiumicino/Leonardo da Vinci airport, but they offer a shuttle service to/from the airport. It’s also close to the dock for the fast boats to Sardegna, close to the Nuova Fiera di Roma (a huge convention center that hosts a number of major events throughout the year), and some historic Roman sites like Ostia Antica, Porto di Claudio, and the Isola Sacra Necropolis.

Located in a small private “villetta” with garden, the B & B has its own independent entrance and offers clean, spacious rooms with private bathroom, air-conditioning, TV, and free Internet. For those who are driving, internal parking is available.

Walk down the street from the B & B 100 meters and you’ll be at the edge of the sea, so you can enjoy a fresh sea breeze and walk along the sand on your last night in Rome, a good way to relax and unwind from the craziness of Rome before you have to take a long plane ride home.

For inquiries or reservations, contact them directly at:

L’Isola Bed and Breakfast
Via Portunno n°53
Fiumicino (RM) – 00054
Phone: +39 0697275259
Cell: +39 3355386416
E-mail: piero14@fastwebnet.it

10 tips for visiting Amsterdam that don’t include getting stoned

by Steven Brenner

My first time to Amsterdam was in the mid 90s.  I was about 21 years old and can’t even recall how long, or how short, my stay there was.  Yeah, it was the typical young male 20-something Amsterdam visit, inspired by the fact that I had a flight going through Schiphol Airport and wanted to experience getting high in the open – a real novelty when you’re 21.

It was a great trip, and I certainly don’t berate anyone for wanting to visit Amsterdam to experience tolerant drug culture (although you can even get that in Colorado now).  But Amsterdam is a lot more and on a recent visit, this time with kids and for a few weeks, I was blown away at this whole other personality the city has away from the red light district.

Here’s 10 tips for anyone planning a visit and wanting to see this other side of Amsterdam:

 

1.  Go to The Amsterdam Museum – open 10am to 5pm at Kalverstraat 92, Amsterdam

In my opinion, the perfect way to start your stay.  There’s a DNA Amsterdam interactive exhibit that takes you through the centuries, explaining the creation and development of the city and putting into perspective its growth and decline – first as a hugely successful merchant town, whose residents built nice homes in the 17th century to show off their wealth (spawning the entire Dutch Golden Age of Painting), and how this evolved into the land-of-liberty that Amsterdam is infamous for today.  The museum is full of insights into the current attitude of the people – a small city that is worldly and can boast an ability to relate, communicate and tolerate other cultures.  Then, as you walk around the city and admire the architecture of canal houses and the ability of the Dutch to speak English so well, you’ll understand the historic legacy that these (and many other aspects of the city) come from.

 

2. Stay in the Jordaan

This is the area West of the central station about a 20 minute walk away, bordered by the Lijnbaansgracht canal to the West, the Prinsengracht street on the East (where the Anne Frank House is), and the Brouwersgracht and Leidsegracht on the North and South.

The area is filled with great restaurants, cafes, vintage clothing shops, and doesn’t feel as touristy as the area around the Dam.

This is a neighborhood you can easily feel at home in.  There’s a great organic market every Saturday from 9am to 6pm at the Noordermarkt.  Come in the morning and get a piece of delicious apple pie from Winkel at Noordermarkt, 43.  They also make a great cappuccino.  For a cute little hotel, check out the Hotel Acacia (clearly I’m biased by the name) on Lijnbaansgracht.  Not in the same neighborhood, but recommended is Cocomama colleagues of ours in the Luxury Hostels of Europe project.

 

3.  Buy tickets to the Anne Frank house in advance.

This picture says it all.  Opening hours vary depending on the season, but in the summer, even open until 9pm, you can expect a line like this all day long.  Buy your tickets online in advance and enjoy the feeling of bypassing the long queue and instead walking right up to the ticket holders door to buzz and get let in like a VIP.

 

4.  Eat Cheese

I’m a sucker for cheese, and a food snob.  Amsterdam didn’t disappoint.  There’s more than Gouda and Edam – in fact, we had cheese with truffles, cheese with nettles, and varying degrees of texture and pungency.  There’s the touristy Cheese Museum on the Prinsengracht, across the canal from the Anne Frank house which does have great cheeses:

and Kaasland on Haarlemmerdijk 1 or De Kaaskamer on Runstraat 7 in the 9 Streets shopping area.

 

 

5.  Watch out for bicycles!

Takes a bit of getting used to, but you can’t just step down off a sidewalk without risking a major collision.  Since they’re quiet, it’s especially dangerous if you don’t stay aware.  Make sure to keep off the bicycle lanes which this town is chock full of.

 

6.  Rent a boat and cruise the canals.

Here’s the best way to do this:  make friends with a local who either has a boat or can borrow one.  You bring the wine and cheese (see nr. 4) and enjoy seeing Amsterdam from a whole other vantage point.  This, to me, is the city at its best!  For those of you less outgoing, and/or more confident in your boating skills, you can rent your own through Boats4Rent for about €80 for 3 hours (you need to reserve it in advance), or you can do a canal cruise, tourist style, in many places along the city (there’s even a hop-on, hop-off version).

 

7.  Visit the Nemo Science Museum

Nemo Science Museum

This ship-like science museum is one of the best I’ve been to.  Perfect for kids and the young at heart.  Each floor is dedicated to a different age group.  There’s plenty to entertain and teach little kids as well as teens (and adults as well).  The entire slanted rooftop is a terrace/garden cafe – a great place to hang out on a clear day.

 

8.  Take advantage of speaking English without apology

I know – traveling in a foreign country can be tough when you can’t communicate.  If you speak English, communicating won’t be a problem here.  This great video from the Dutch Tourist Board makes it clear – there’s only one guy left who doesn’t speak English!  You will not be practicing your Dutch in Amsterdam.

 

9.  Spend some time at the Rijksmuseum

Recently reopened after a 10 year restoration and it was well worth the wait.  Another of Europe’s enormous art museums that you can’t visit in a day, the Rijksmuseum is probably the only one with a bike path running through it!  Although filled with works from many eras, the highlights are the Dutch masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer and the Asian Pavillion.  Book your tickets online and get there early to beat the crowds.

My experience with museums is usually to leave feeling drained and in need of a nap, and being tossed into the sea of humanity.  At the Rijksmusuem, you can stumble out exhausted, but then take a break outside in the beautiful expanse of lawn, benches, a cafe, and fountain you’ll see kids playing in to cool off in the summer.  If you hold onto your ticket, you can also take a museum break out on their lawns and then go back in.

Museums are expensive in Amsterdam and it can add up.  If you plan on visiting several museums, it would be a good idea to invest in the Museumkaart which you can purchase at select museums and allows you entry into any of Amsterdam’s 34 museums including the Amsterdam Museum, Anne Frank House and NEMO mentioned above and is valid for one year.  Check out the other pass options also such as Amsterdam Holland Pass or I amsterdam card which include free entries, discounts and public transit.

 

10.  Get a piercing or tattoo!

Definitely not a typical entry for a top 10 list, but Amsterdam is a good place for it!  We recommend Dare 2 Wear just off Haarlemmerdijk on Buiten Oranjestraat 15 for piercings or their Classic Ink & Mods at Spaarpotsteeg 2 for tattoos.  Friendly, hygienic, professional, good English – everything you want in a piercing or tattoo parlor in a foreign city.  Makes a great birthday present for a 13 year old too!

 

Bonus tip:  Pig out on the vlaamse frites (belgian fries)

No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without queuing up at the hole in the wall Vlaams Friteshuis, sausmeesters since 1887. Located on Voetboogstraat 33, and always busy, this is clearly why potatoes exist.

Rifugio Degli Dei – where to stay in Positano

We often get asked for recommendations in other cities that we don’t cover on our site.  The following is a review by Heather Howard, a guest of our hotel, The Beehive, who felt this place shared our values and hoped we could help spread the word about them.

We stayed at the Beehive Hotel in Rome for a week in early September (wonderful!) and then moved on to Positano for the next week. Like our trip to Rome,we hadn’t wanted the usual touristy hotels, just something a little different that promised a warm welcome. We experienced that at the Beehive (thank you!) and also at Rifugio Degli Dei.

It lies about 15/20 mins stroll from Positano itself, and then about 240 steps up from the main road, hugging the Sentiero Degli Dei hike. The steps really weren’t an issue for us.  We took our time, pausing to admire the amazing views as we caught our breath. And the view from the property is truly outstanding – one we never tired of.

The Rufugio is an agriturismo (farm stay) and is run by the Fusco family who really are an absolute joy. Warm and welcoming, they clearly love having visitors and nothing is too much trouble for them.  Any queries we had were dealt with immediately and Davide Fusco, the main host, is a delightful young man who always had time to show us around the property, which was full of grape vines, pomegranate, olive and persimmon trees – the list goes on.

Breakfast is cooked every morning by Anna, Davide’s mother, and is included in the price of 100 euros per night (50pp), or 600 euros per week. Everything is homemade, mostly from the farm produce. As Davide said to us, “about the only things we don’t grow are coffee and milk!” Our room was spacious,and spotlessly clean.

We visited Positano itself, Amalfi and Nocelle, high up on the Sentiero Degli Dei.  Davide and the family were always extremely helpful, with bus times, places to eat, local history, etc.

We really cannot praise this property and the Fusco family enough.  They were kindness itself to us!

Rifugio Degli Dei agriturismo in Positano.

Where to stay and eat in Milan

by Steven Brenner

Linda and I recently spent a few days in Milan to see the Dalai Lama.  We wanted to stay somewhere inexpensive and cute and not too far from the train station.  We found a great little apartment near Porta Garibaldi station and booked it on-line.  Although we don’t have any immediate plans to expand Cross-Pollinate to Milan, we’re often asked if we have any recommendations – and this place was definitely recommendable.

For about 120 euro a night you get a private apartment with air-conditioning, a nice bathroom, wifi, TV, and a kitchen.  The owner, Alessandra, bakes little cakes for tea time and has all the breakfast stuff you would need – bread to toast, milk, sugar, and an espresso machine.  From there, you can jump on the subway at Moscova to get anywhere in the city, or walk down the fashionable Corso Garibaldi, to the Duomo in about 20 minutes.

Porta Garibaldi B&B – viale Pasubio 8 – 20154 Milano tel: 02-29061419 cell: 335-8044030 bb@portagaribaldi.it

************

Food is good in Milan, but not cheap.  Our close friend, who’s originally Milanese, suggested we go to a restaurant called Al Pont de Ferr in his old stomping ground of the Navigli, the canal area of Milan, lined with hip places to eat and drink.

Normally, I really hate fancy food – I find the no frills, humble version to much more satisfying than a pretentious attempt at being creative with a dish that really doesn’t need to be improved.  But these guys at Pont de Ferr are seriously creative.  They do stuff I’ve never seen or tasted before.  Stuff that frankly would never even occur to me.

This is their take on an eggplant parmigiana:

an appetizer of red onion and goat cheese:

the dessert menu, which I like to translate as, “we’re not playing around with this dessert!”:

Al Pont de Ferr – Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 55 – Naviglio Grande, Milano tel: 02-89406277

Not All Vacation Rental Agencies Are Created Equal – an Interview with NY Habitat

 

I have a lot of respect for NY Habitat.  I’ve used them personally in New York, years ago, to book an amazing apartment that cost a fraction of a hotel and gave our family at least 3 times the space.  More than that, I respect them because in many ways they are on the same side of an imaginary line that separates Cross-Pollinate from other sites that, in my opinion, are following a dangerous trend in the vacation rental market.

I’ve lost count over the years of how many accommodation agencies have sprouted up like weeds online — many of them promoting the same properties (sometimes unbeknownst to the owners) in an identically impersonal way and with cookie-cutter designs (large slideshow image of a beautiful apartment and a big, fat text box that says something direct like “where do you want to go?”).  The business model may differ from site to site, but almost all of them that are getting serious press and financial backing, and thus are the ones competing for your eyeballs, have traded in any notion of quality control for scalability.  Having witnessed everything that can go wrong in international travel over the last 10 years, the thought of what happens to that 1 or 2% of tourists who fall through the cracks — ie. gets scammed, books a place that doesn’t exist, or has their accommodation canceled by the owner at the last minute — makes me cringe.   Large sites find this percentage acceptable, and perhaps when you do millions of revenue, it’s a small price to pay.  But when you’re the guy on vacation, with 1 week to spare a year, things look a helluva lot different.

It didn’t used to be like this though.  When we started Cross-Pollinate in 2000, it was all much simpler.  It was rare that people sought out apartments and spare rooms in the first place, so we had to go and inspect them and make sure they existed before we could promote them. Sites like ours, and NY Habitat, which was founded in 1998, were certainly pioneers in getting these alternative accommodations online so they could be reserved easily.  Unfortunately, this model of ours, which works quite well, albeit on a small, manageable scale, has grown into an industry of inexperienced players, flushed with cash and credibility issues.

Talking to Marie-Reine, the founder of NY Habitat, helped reinforce my conviction that the “mom-and-pop / Main Street” version of the travel world is worth preserving.

 

 

1.  What’s your personal background and how did New York Habitat get started?

Originally from a small town in Western France, I actually started my career working in an antique business company. For business purposes, I traveled to New York for a few months in 1981. That was the first time I discovered NYC, and I immediately fell in love with the city! I had to go back to France shortly after but returned to the city later on to settle eventually. Since I was living in the Big Apple, I started having a lot of people asking to stay at my apartment to visit the city: first family, then friends, then friends of friends… I had so many people asking me to host them I even told everyone to stop giving out my contacts! That’s when I realized how much of the big dream New York represented for so many people. Everyone wants to come here! So I decided to turn the loft I was working in into a vacation rental for anyone coming to New York City. It all went fast from then on: I obtained my license, expanded the team, Francois Roux joined up and implemented the website (http://www.nyhabitat.com), and we were on our way to becoming the successful company New York Habitat is today.

2.  What’s the New York Habitat model and what do you think distinguishes you from other websites?  In other words, why should someone book through you and not stay in a hotel?  Why should someone book through you and not another website?

The strength of New York Habitat lies in three factors: cosmopolitanism, expertise and protection. Indeed, you could picture NYH as a bridge between owner and tenant, between two people and between two cultures. We have agents fluent in many languages, including French, Spanish, Italian and German, and we have branches not only in New York but also in Paris, London and in the South of France. Also, we rely on our staff of most professional Real Estate Agents, who make a point of assisting and educating our clientele in their search for an accommodation or housing. Finally, we understand that in a world where it is becoming easier and easier to rent an apartment or a vacation rental, people need a safety net to protect themselves from many of the threats we have seen in the papers lately. This is why we provide guarantees before, during and after the stay of clients through state licenses worldwide and compliance to the latest current laws surrounding housing.  We want our clientele to feel safe and fully enjoy their stay in a New York Habitat accommodation.

3.  You’ve been in the business long enough to have seen a lot of changes in the online travel industry.  What changes do you predict in the next 2-5 years?

Well, first of all, I think that e-booking is definitely going to go mainstream and, with so many things to make it easy for us to rent an apartment, I am certain that within a few years we will be able to rent an apartment just like we book a hotel room. Also, we will attend the development of peer-to-peer in the market, with all of these new websites that allow people to rent apartments directly to each other. This will deeply reshape the housing market and the role of brokers in the future. In order to follow these changes smoothly, we need to think about new concepts and grow towards a more complete expertise and better communication. We need to create tomorrow’s broker.

4.  New York Habitat has a stunning amount of fans/followers – you’re like a rock star!  What do you think the key to your success is?  What is it that you think people identify with about your company?

99% perspiration, 1% inspiration! It’s been a lot of work accumulated throughout the years to become what New York Habitat is today. Our work is very tiring because what we create is something sustainable and strongly built, and I think people can see that: through a constant level of excellence in our service. Our internationality combined with a personalized expertise helped us build our reputation over the years. And all the work behind the scene, like a case-by-case approach and a thorough inspection of each one of our apartments, gives a unique sense of safety to our clientele.

Over the last 2 years, we have started to engage in the social media community and it has been very exciting. Our Facebook fans (30,000 as of today) show us what they are interested via their Likes and comments, and our Twitter followers (12,000 so far) encourage us to find new ideas, new deals. All of them share their experiences with us, which allows us to improve our service and strive for excellence. It is definitely a win-win situation when you take the time to listen!

Our goal is to share and expand our knowledge via articles, to-do lists and videos.

We recently started sharing content on Tumblr (very visual website with lots of pictures and tips), on Flickr, on Foursquare (if you are not sure what to do in New York, Paris, London or even the South of France, check us out!) and on Google+.

We enjoy sharing our knowledge and receiving feedback from our customers and Fans.

5.  Do you have a horror story that comes to mind either from the perspective of a guest or owner or agent, or all three?

We did have a few bad stories like you never expect them to happen, but there is one that struck me especially. We had found housing for this woman in a roommate share in a Paris apartment and about a year ago, a huge fire started for an unknown reason and burned down the whole place! There was absolutely nothing left but ashes! But luckily no one got hurt. Of course, since the rental was completely destroyed we relocated her, as well as the landlady that was also living there and had lost her apartment…. Insurance kicked in and helped them out but trust me we got really scared for the people living in the accommodation!

6.  Can you tell a story about how NYH has been able to come through for someone and really save the day?

It sounds incredible but we find emergency housing for people almost every week! You have no idea how many people get scammed by Craigslist all the time! We even wrote an article about them on our New York Habitat blog (http://www.nyhabitat.com/blog/2011/02/04/how-to-spot-an-apartment-rental-scam/) People think it is easy and simple to rent an apartment so they just go ahead and reply to an advertisement but they don’t realize how dangerous that can be until it is too late! Hopefully, most of the time we are able to find them another apartment to live in and people are always extremely grateful to us when that happens. It makes me personally proud because that is another proof of the level of service we fight to reach!

7.  What are your plans for the future – either for New York Habitat or otherwise?

Work smarter, more efficiently and keep raising our service to the next level. Now more than ever the housing market has grown increasingly competitive with the appearance of a whole series of unfair competitors. Peer-to-peer websites that allow people to rent apartments directly to each other represent a real threat to the traditional real estate model. If this peer-to-peer trend isn’t challenged legally, the whole market of real estate housing will be completely reshaped. A recent law issued by the State of New York and prohibiting rentals for less than 30-days in class-A buildings already modified our entire business structure. We adapted ourselves and do our best to stay afloat while respecting the law but this has to apply to every player in the real estate market. You will find more legal information on this blog dedicated to New York housing laws: http://protect-vacation-rentals.com/. We don’t know what tomorrow will be made of but yet here at New York Habitat, we’re hoping for the best… and long live vacation rentals!

To discover more about New York Habitat, visit our website and find the social media icons like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc.

by Steven Brenner