Off the Beaten Path in Rome’s Monti Neighborhood

by Amy Knauff

Monti is the historic area located between Termini Station and the Colosseum/Roman Forum.  It’s where Woody Allen shot a good deal of “To Rome with Love” – so it’s your picture postcard version of Rome: ivy covered buildings, narrow cobblestone streets – but it’s less touristy, more authentic and hip than the area around Piazza Navona/Pantheon.  On a rainy autumn day, here’s what we’d consider an ideal visit:

9:30am: Start at the Cavour metro stop. Walk straight up the street in front of you, via Leonina. Here you’ll find two great cafés to choose from for breakfast. Ciuri Ciuri, at nr. 18, is a classic Italian bar with yummy Sicilian pastries (cassate, cannoli, marzipan, Modica chocolate, sweets made with Avola almonds and Bronte pistacchios). 2 Periodico Café, at nr. 77, is a cozy spot where you can enjoy a more leisurely breakfast while listening to chill-out music, snuggled up in an armchair as you read the morning paper.  For a typical Roman bar, with amazing coffee and good pastries, head right up Via del Boschetto to Er Baretto on your left at nr. 132 (has a few outside tables too).

10am: Head back down via Leonina to nr. 46/48, where you’ll find a big, blocky industrial-looking building that stands out like a sore thumb from the more quaint buildings in Monti. It’s a parking garage, and on Saturdays and Sundays, the ground floor is home to Mercato Monti, a small but interesting vintage-styled market. Purists, take note: most stuff in here is not actually vintage. But it’s the style that counts, and it’s a fun spot to pick up some interesting, offbeat finds and hang out with creative types.

11am: Leave the market and head out for a wander around the narrow cobblestone streets of Monti. This neighborhood is charming, picturesque and packed to the brim with interesting, eclectic shops for clothing, jewelry, and home goods. Stop by the uninspiringly named Candle’s Store (via Urbana, 21), which has gorgeous homemade candles. Aromaticus (via Urbana, 134) is like being in an adorable greenhouse; they sell garden and home decorations (and you can enjoy lunch or an organic smoothie or snack surrounded by greenery). On via dei Serpenti (nr. 141) check out Pifebo Vintage Shop, which has authentic vintage finds.

Of course, Monti isn’t just about shopping: the architecture is fascinating, as the mix of individual homes with street entrances, ivy-draped streets, and planters exploding with red and pink flowers make you feel like you’re not in otherwise chaotic Rome. Being something of a bohemian/artsy area, there is also plenty of interesting street art and graffiti to see as you walk around. (See if you can spot the space invader mosaics!) And of course, it’s de rigueur to pay a visit to the neighborhood church – the Church of Santa Maria ai Monti right in the main piazza was designed by none other than Giacomo della Porta.

1pm: You’ve earned a long lunch. Monti is loaded with good restaurants (for all budgets). Urbana 47 (at via Urbana 47, of course) is one of the most popular ones in Monti, and it’s “zero-kilometer” (locally sourced). But in general, it’s hard to go wrong in this area – it has mostly authentic, non-tourist-menu restaurants. Even La Bottega del Caffè located smack dab in Piazza della Madonna dei Monti is good, packed with tourists and locals alike. It has covered outdoor seating (so it’s great for people-watching) and I like their pasta with salmon in cream sauce. If you’re in the mood for something non-Italian, you can also get sushi at Daruma (via dei Serpenti 1) or Indian at Maharajah (via dei Serpenti 124) or Sitar (via Cavour 256) to name two of the four different Indian restaurants in the area.  Down Via dei Madonna ai Monti, almost at the end on the right, is Taverna ai Fori Imperiali (via della Madonna dei Monti 9), a well known Roman trattoria with great food – but you’ll definitely need to make a reservation.

2:30pm: Stretch your legs after lunch – climb the stairs next to the Irish pub on via Leonina and cross the busy street (via Cavour). On the other side there is a big tunnel with stairs. Walk up the stairs and keep going straight until you get to Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli. Follow the hordes of tourists into the church and visit the stunning marble statue of Moses, sculpted by Michelangelo.

3pm: Leave the church and keep going straight, away from via Cavour. You’ll soon get to the back end of the Colle Oppio park, which overlooks the Colosseum. On Sundays the dirt soccer field (called “la polverera” for its dustiness in the summer) in this part of the park is used all day by Latin American soccer teams. They play rain or shine. Huddle under your umbrella for a while and watch the back-to-back soccer games with the Colosseum as a backdrop. The smell of South American food and the sound of Latin rhythms add to the atmosphere.

4pm: It’s time for an afternoon coffee (or hot chocolate). Get out of the rain and into the closest coffee bar. Caffe dello Studente, just across from the soccer field, is Rick Steves-recommended and has a nice view of the Colosseum.

And no visit to Monti is complete without a stop at Fata Morgana on Piazza degli Zingari (up at the end of Via degli Zingari, and not on the lower part near the Cavour metro).  This is one of the top 3 gelaterias in the entire city and not to be missed.

Want to stay in the neighborhood? Here’s some of our top suggestions:

Appartamento Baccina starting at €100/night

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B&B Suburbe from €120/night

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Apparatmento Urbana from €110/night

 

Tips for Enjoying London in the Wintertime

November through February can be pretty bleak in London, but also an invitation to enjoy London at its coziest.  There’s no shortage of inviting pubs, tea-houses and coffee shops to keep you dry and happy. Try the Builders Arms in Chelsea for a glam version of the enduring squishy sofas/giant fireplace combo. Or if you fancy lingering over your hot beverage, LJ’s on Soho’s Winnet street has classic board games like Scrabble and Wit’s End to while away some time over. Just around the corner, Dean Street Townhouse instead offers the slightly more grownup enticement of international newspapers.

Either way, one can’t have Ying without Yang- so after some happy and aimless coffee housing, it’s all but compulsory to search out a bit of higher Culture. Look no further than the river’s South Bank, London’s hub for all things “The Arts”, with its cluster of behemoths housing national venues for Theatre, Music and Cinema (National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall, British Film Institute).  Make the BFI your first stop, with its free and fascinating Mediateque Film Jukebox – you can drop in and explore the national archive of vintage film on literally any subject under the sun. Be warned, it’s compulsive.

England’s notorious weather (rain much?) is very possibly what prompted ministers to maintain entrance to our biggest national museum collections free. Head directly to South Kensington tube station and dive right in to the biggest three – Science, Natural History and of course the V&A. But for something less obvious, Somerset House in Mayfair – only free on Mondays – will allow you to enjoy your Manet without the throngs. And the Hunterian museum, a small enclave within the Royal College of Surgeons, allows silent and riveting access to the dissected animals, insects and yes – babies. Not for the faint hearted.

Short days require neon refuges after five, and they don’t come much brighter than the Westfield shopping centre near Shepherd’s Bush. From high end designer (Versace, Louis Vuitton) to ordinary high street chains, there isn’t a purchase that can’t be made in this mecca to consumerism. Go with an appetite, the restaurant selection is pretty broad too. If that seems far too modern an escape, travel through time and play spot-the-academic at the British Library, home to almost three hundred years and eight million volumes of books. When you’re done with the dusty tomes, enjoy some underground Bands, Bowling and Karaoke just five minutes walk away at the old-school Bloomsbury Lanes. Adored by the university students, guilty pleasure to large swathes of thirty-somethings too.

Green spaces lose their focus in these darker months, but do remember how romantic the cafe on Hyde Park’s Serpentine lake can be when the rain is lashing down outside. Definite contender for a Valentine’s moment, and with February also being LGBT history month, it’s the perfect time to search out some cut-price accommodation. Check our London apartments and B&B’s for last minute deals and rates.

Antique meets hip in the Cukurcuma neighborhood of Istanbul

by Selma Sevkli

Every morning I walk to work in Istanbul. During my half-hour walk, there are many shortcuts and variations to my walk, but my favorite always remains the same: Çukurcuma. The neighborhood’s history dates back to the 1200s and still has buildings from that period. Çukurcuma means ‘Hollow Friday’, a name acquired when Fatih Sultan Mehmed II came to this hollow to join the Friday prayers before he conquered Istanbul. Two famous hammams, Firuzaga and Aga Hamami were built in this area right after Constantinopolis became Istanbul in the 1400s.

Although its roots are historic, the neighborhood underwent a gentrification process so now bars and cafes mix with antique shops. Wandering in and out of Çukurcuma’s various stores and cafes, it is easy to get lost, but in fact this is the best way to discover any neighborhood and part of the fun of traveling anywhere unknown. As the area once was home to Armenian and Greek communities, the architecture still reflects that energy and diversity.

Located between the bohemian Cihangir and legendary Istiklal Street, at first glance it feels like you’re in grandma’s neighborhood with traditional grocery stores and tea houses. Then you make a turn and see a store with high-end fashion. Piquant graffiti stands out on the walls. Cats are not uncommon.  In fact, they are all well-fed by the residents of the neighborhood.

Some houses are renovated and quite pricey whereas others show their years with character. Most of the buildings are tall with staggered roofs, hovering bay windows, crumbling arched doors and interiors of exposed bricks.

The antique stores could keep you busy for hours. You’ll find furniture, old records, shoes, postcards, photos, books, jewelery, jackets, mirrors and many other objects, each with an unknown story.

When you get hungry wandering around, there are a few great places to eat. One of my recent favorites is Antakya Mutfagi with its delicious Mesopotamian appetizers.  Cukurcuma Koftecisi is a classic for meatball lovers. Ufak Tefek Seyler is a cute little cafe with pastries and hot drinks and has a tiny balcony.

Cukurcuma is a district that mixes East and West, modern and traditional. The cool thing here is an endless amount of something new (or old) to discover at some corner.

Side Streets of Istanbul

by Selma Sevkli

I live in Cihangir, Istanbul, which is a gentrified area, recently made popular among artists and actors as well as foreigners living in the city. Cihangir is located right behind the famous Istiklal which is an almost 2-kilometer-long pedestrian street full of food, people, cafes, bars, restaurants and theaters. As my work is at the end of Istiklal Street, I walk to work which takes about 30 minutes every day. I am a person who does not enjoy routine and gets bored easily. Luckily, Istiklal (we don’t add street at the end when mentioning it) has many side streets; some are dead ends, some connect with each other around the corner.

I try to take a different path every day and try to entertain myself by discovering a new cafe, going over old postcards at flea markets or simply analyzing street art.

Some of the graffiti on the streets is done by local artists and some are posted by activists.

It is very rare that you find profanity, even though there is often criticism.

Getting lost on the side streets of Istiklal is fun and always surprising. It is guaranteed that you will see a lazy cat at every corner who is fed by generous neighbors.

When you start thinking that you are stuck in the middle of the buildings without any sign of nature, a rare kind of tree could surprise you.

Here’s a suggested route: Go down Istiklal and turn left from Galatasaray High School, which is halfway down the street. Take a left and walk around Cukurcuma. Try some pickles at “Asri Tursucusu” which is a 99-year-old pickle store with more than 50 kinds of pickles. Go to your right and find “Cihangir Kahvesi” where all the journalists, actors and residents have their tea. Cross the street and walk around Cihangir; if you get hungry, try Susam Cafe which has a comprehensive menu and a great chef. If you are into seafood with affordable prices, Rodosto is your best bet.

Then make your way down to Tophane and feel free to wander in the antique/flea market stores. If it is still early, you could visit Istanbul Modern, the first contemporary art museum in Turkey, right by the sea. If it is late, go next door where all the shisha cafes are lined next to one another, open 24 hours. Apple flavor is a classic and my favorite; you may want to give it a try even though other attractive-sounding ones like watermelon or coconut could intrigue you.

 

Insider view on London’s Chelsea neighborhood

by Marina Camilletti

Chelsea may currently be better known for housing slick European bankers and their über-coiffed wives, but at its heart it remains one of London’s most beautiful neighbourhoods, steeped in history. You can eat anything from high-end alfresco Italian (Manicomio, Duke of York’s Square), to mid-priced Lebanese (Al Dar, corner of Lincoln Street), to the classic “Full English Breakfast” for under five pounds (Mona Lisa cafe – cheap, a little grotty, but one hundred percent authentic).

Sylvia Pankhurst's house, Cheyne Walk - geograph.org.uk - 263337

There are a few boutiques amongst the mid- to high-end shops: Austique specializes in hand-picked accessories, and French Sole, founded in a Chelsea basement, originated the ongoing trend for ballet flats. But the more adventurous shoppers are to be found stalking the cluster of charity shops (thrift stores) at the World’s End, for the best rich-lady castoffs in town.

Parallel to the Kings Road, the embankment to the River Thames houses hidden delights, most especially for those with a penchant for architecture and juxtaposition. From outside Chelsea Old Church, which dates from the twelfth century, one can directly gaze at one of Norman Foster’s modern international headquarters, one of the first glass buildings of its kind in London. Farther toward Sloane Square, past the hidden gem that is the Chelsea Physic Garden, Christopher Wren’s magnificent Chelsea Hospital (home to old war veterans, whom you’ll see walking about proudly in their traditional red uniforms) stands opposite Richard Rogers’ house on Royal Avenue – a perfect Georgian facade which the architect himself gutted and refurbished.

Chelsea Old Church, Cheyne Walk - geograph.org.uk - 1569945

The Kings Walk Mall, directly opposite on the bustling Kings Road, has the perfect drop-in manicure bar and speedy hairdressers. Yoga classes can be found at Triyoga (corner of Beaufort Street).  And for a quick burst of nightlife, The Pheasantry houses a rather recherche’ jazz club in its basement music room, beneath its pretty decent pizza restaurant.

WhitelandsHouseShops

For a little taste of Chelsea life at its most typical, one of its original 1960s denizens, Dina Wheatley, houses paying guests in her charming period house on Smith Terrace.