Rome: 5 best March values
Italy celebrates the annual Festa della Donna on March 8 with discounts for ladies at bars, clubs, cinemas, and some restaurants. Over the weekend of March 6-7, all state-run museums and archaeological sites let women in for free. The Casa Internazionale delle Donne sponsors free exhibits, film screenings, and dance performances at Campo de' Fiori on March 7, from 11 a.m. to sunset. And don't be surprised if you see women across the city with mimosas, yellow puffy flowers on stalks that are traditionally bestowed by men (glorified rag weed, if you ask me).
"Our World" photo exhibit
Take a break from Rome's ancient glories to contemplate the modern human condition at the free National Geographic "Our World" exhibit at the Palazzo delle Esposizione. Ninety photographs are organized in a progression (kids, women, men, group) meant to highlight both our differences and similarities. via Milano 13, open Tues-Thurs and Sun 10a.m.-8p.m., Fri-Sat 10a.m.-10:30p.m., through May 2.
Organic food fair
La Citta' dell'Altra Economia, an organic food collective inside former slaughterhouse grounds in Testaccio, hosts its monthly fair on Sunday, March 21. Known as Altradomenica, the fair encompasses stalls selling locally grown produce, activities for children, and lectures. The marketplace is free and open 10 a.m. until sunset; enter at Largo Dino Frisullo. While you're in the neighborhood of Testaccio, you might stop to see statuary at Centrale Montemartini.
Ara Pacis in its true colors
The Ara Pacis—Emperor Augustus's Altar of Peace—will stay open after hours over the weekend of March 26-28. Visitors can see a multimedia exhibit devoted to singer-songwriter Fabrizio De André and another exhibit, "L'Ara Pacis in Color". Color will be projected onto the monument to recreate what it would have looked like when painted during ancient times. Evening visits March 26-28 from 8-11 p.m.; €9 ($12).
Landscapes of the American West
Museo di Roma in the medieval neighborhood of Trastevere is the unlikely site of an exhibit on the American West. American photographer Stephen Shore snapped the images for "Biographical Landscape" during his cross-country journeys from 1969 to 1979. Piazza S. Egidio 1B, Tuesday to Sunday 10am-8pm (last entrance 7pm) through April 25; €5.50 ($7.50).
Paris: Macarons at McDonald's?
Since 2007, the macaron—the elegant, diminutive, and quintessentially French dessert cookie—has been sold at Paris McCafés, the mini-McDonald's where you can also find free wireless internet and coffee served in porcelain cups. But a recent marketing campaign from the fast-food giant has brought new attention (and disdain) from macaron aficionados, who argue that these "little macs" bear little resemblance to the delicate treat they adore. That's because an authentic macaron, made of whipped egg whites, ground almonds and sugar, has a shorter shelf life than is demanded by an industrial food franchise, so the classic ingredients have been tinkered with. Phyllis Flick, a local food writer, visited a McCafé last week and posted this critique on her blog The Paris Notebook: "I stopped by the McCafé at the Louvre today and tried the caramel; it wasn't bad, but a bit too heavy and sweet for my taste." Since that visit, Flick has returned again to Pierre Hermé,one of the local pilgrimage sites for true macaron fans. Her experience there put the McDonald's macaron in stark and unflattering relief. She explained by telephone today that, "the Pierre Hermé macarons are subtle, delicate, and meant to be savored. You have to eat them slowly so as not to miss the many intricate flavors. I worried that some of them, like the (green tea) matcha and sesame or the strawberry and balsamic, might be overpowering, but in fact they were delicate, light and airy, and absolutely delicious. By contrast, the McDonald's macaron tasted like sugar. It was chewy and heavy, almost the opposite, unfortunately." It's true that the McDonald's macaron is cheaper than you'll find at Pierre Hermé. A single industrial cookie costs $1.22, while the handcrafted treat from Hermé costs $2.15. For true macaron nuts, however, two dollars isn't too much to pay for a bite of authentic artisanal tradition. A real macaron, as Flick points out, is "one of the few luxuries that everyone can afford." To try a McMacaron, visit: McDonald's McCafé 140 avenue des Champs-Elysées in the 8th arrondissement, 5 avenue du Général Leclerc in the 14th arrondissement. There's also the one inside the Louvre. For some of the best macarons in Paris, visit: Pierre Hermé – 72 rue Bonaparte in the 6th arrondissement, 4 rue Cambon in the 1st arrondissement, and185 rue de Vaugirard in the 15th arrondissement. Ladurée – 21 rue Bonaparte in the 6th arrondissement, 16 rue Royale in the 8th arrondissement, and 75 avenue des Champs Elysées in the 8th arrondissement. So, where are you headed? Would you try a macaron from McDonald's? FOR FURTHER READING: The Wall Street Journal – Mon Dieu! Will Newfound Popularity Spoil the Dainty Macaron? Serious Eats – Interview With Macaron Specialist Dorie Greenspan Slate – How McDonald's Conquered France
London: Street art beyond Banksy
The world's most famous graffiti artist since Basquiat, Banksy, launched his first feature film this past weekend. "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is premiering at cinemas throughout London and the U.K. before launching overseas. The artist made his name on the streets of London and his graffiti remain daubed on walls from Camden to Croydon. But there's far more to London street art than Banksy. Many of London's graffiti crew see the Bristol-born, middle-class artist as an imposter. Along the Regent's Canal in the north London borough of Camden his work has been defaced by another cult graffiti artist Robbo, angry at Banksy artist painting on what he has long regarded as his patch. London's street art—arising out of an illegal and often destructive hobby—is some of the most creative and vibrant in the world. And whilst some borough councils (a.k.a. local government officials) paint over graffiti almost as soon as it appears, others leave the quality daubs, or even positively encourage their creation. Hotspots include Camden, Hoxton, and Whitechapel. Look out for Banksy's little boy fishing on Regent's Canal in Camden (22 yards east of Camden market, subway Camden Town), and his painter apparently inscribing the name of a rival artist, Robbo, 300 yards east of the market. In Hoxton (nearest subway, Old Street) take a stroll down Rivington street and around to see the distinctive shop shutter work of graf stalwart Eine, with huge cryptic letters and single words in corporate brand iconography. Hundreds of artists have painted nearby streets, especially Brick Lane in Whitechapel. Perhaps the most exciting new street artists are the Cut up Collective, who dismantle giant advertising hoardings in whole or part and re-assemble them as mosaic pictures—of hooded teenagers, urban landscapes, alienated children… You can even find street art indoors. Mainstream galleries throughout London have begun to showcase street artists, most famously the Tate Modern in 2008 , which invited "graffers" the world over to cover its iconic brick walls with their images. You can catch Banksy's new movie in his own-self created space (for a week only)—a makeshift theater in amongst the street scrawl and under the dripping railway arches in Waterloo. Full details of showings are on banksy.co.uk. Bring a warm coat. TRAILER FOR THE MOVIE: MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Check out our London page
Rome: The time is ripe for blood oranges
Nothing heralds the arrival of spring in Rome like the first whiff of a blood orange. Vendors cut open the succulent citrus fruits to show off the crimson flesh to shoppers at the Testaccio market near the Aventine hill (Piazza Testaccio, open Mon-Sat, 7am to 1pm) and the Biological Market in Trastevere (Via Cardinale Merry del Val, open the second Sunday of every month). Coffee bars throughout Rome serve freshly squeezed blood orange juice, spremuta, with a touch of sugar. For an exceptional spremuta, swing by Caffè delle Arance, Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, 2 (arance means oranges in Italian). Don't delay as the availability of the blood oranges is fleeting. Italians adhere strictly to the tradition of seasons—eating food when it is ripe or not at all. The idea that these sweet oranges will only be around for a few short weeks somehow makes them taste better. Blood oranges, like most seasonal fruits, come with a long history of folklore. In the 17th century, when blood oranges popped up in Sicily, they were thought to come from poisoned trees. Instead they are the product of a natural mutation. The red color comes from anthocyanins, which give cherries and apples their red color. But the Sicilians, then under Arab control, thought they were harmful and avoided eating them for nearly half a century. The theory eventually evolved that the oranges brought healing powers. Elderly Sicilians devour the oranges to ward off the late-winter flu and pregnant women rub the juice on their bellies to ward off stretch marks. Across Italy, ice-cream makers produce blood orange gelato during this season, and restaurants lace traditional salads and dishes like duck and pork with the fruit. RELATED ROME COVERAGE Roman snacks for any craving Italy menu decoder (PDF) Video: How to order coffee like a Roman
San Francisco: 5 walking tours
San Francisco is a walker's city. So think like a local and try a walking tour when you're in town, instead of taking a stereotypical bus tour. Walking tours are an excellent way to get an insider perspective of the city, whether you're interested in must-see landmarks or more uncommon sites. In our opinion, the five listed here are well worth the money. Downtown: San Francisco Architecture Walking Tour Even people who work downtown don't know about most of the hidden rooftop gardens, unmarked passages, outdoor sculptures, and architectural wonders in the area, like the Hallidie building, which was the first structure in the world to use a "glass-curtain wall". Guide Rick Evans's knowledge of the history and architecture of the city is impressive, and he often includes tidbits on future city plans in this two-hour tour. If you're staying downtown, this is an easy first activity—and you'll be an expert by the end. $20. Reservations required. Meet at the lobby of the Galleria Park Hotel, 191 Sutter Street. Mission District: Latino Mural Art The arts organization Precita Eyes offers walking tours of more than 50 of the Mission District's famous public murals, which are a testament to the neighborhood's rich Latino culture. See the murals up close; scenes and styles range greatly, from celebrations to children's art to modern works by local emerging artists. The guides on the hourlong tours explain the history and significance of each mural and also include information about the artists and how the murals are made. from $10 for adults, $5 for kids and seniors, $2 for children under 12. Reservations not required. Tours are offered Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Various meeting locations. Private tours available by appointment. Note that maps of the Mission's murals are also available at the center for self-guided tours. Pacific Heights: Victorian San Francisco The iconic Painted Ladies are a must-see for any visitor, and this guided tour takes tourists around the neighborhood to see even more beautiful homes. Guides describe what life was like back in the Victorian era. Wear comfy sneakers: The hilly tour offers ample opportunities for fabulous views of the city and the Bay. Free. No reservations required. Tours offered Sundays at 2 p.m. Meet at 1801 Bush at Octavia. Want more? Check out sfcityguides.org for 50 free walking-tours. Chinatown : Alleyway Tour Young tour guides who grew up in this San Francisco enclave lead you through the hidden back alleys of the "real" Chinatown while sharing the history and culture of the 'hood—plus a few secrets. The non-profit company also cares about current community issues, giving this two-hour tour a socially conscious bent. Highlights include Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat Sen's former house, old opium dens, and Ross Alley, where movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were filmed. $18, cash or check only. Reservations required at least five days in advance. Tours are offered Monday–Saturday. 11 a.m-1 p.m. Meet at the upper level of Portsmouth Square (near Washington and Kearny), across from the Hilton Hotel's bridge. Downtown, Chinatown, North Beach, and Fisherman's Wharf: The Barbary Coast Trail This tour follows the historical society's gold sidewalk markers that point out important landmarks. Get the backstories behind sights like the North Beach hangouts of the Beats (including Jack Kerouac's favorite barstool) and the Pony Express Headquarters, plus a few historic ships and Coit Tower. You'll also hear the seedy side of the Gold Rush days. You can opt to only do parts of the tour or tackle the whole 3.8 miles from downtown to Fisherman's Wharf. $22. By appointment only. The tour is one way, but it parallels the Powell-Hyde cable car line, so you can hop on the cable car to get back. For a self-guided option, MP3 audio tours and maps are available for download, starting at $9.