David Lloyd Travel Writer Guest Posting

Posted by admin | Posted in Guest Articles | Posted on 14-10-2010

Our guest posting this week is from Liverpool based writer David Lloyd who’s writing covers travel, culture, food and music, runs Liverpool-centred arts and ents site, www.sevenstreets.com, holidays anywhere north of Inverness. Probably eats too much cheese, and watches too much reality TV than is medically safe and is a thoroughly lovely chap!

BLACK ICE

Like laundry on a final spin I’m thrown around inside a four-by-four with tyres the size of Hampshire. I bite my lip, bang my head, and try to focus on the horizon as I shudder along roads that can only be described as ‘off’.

I’m in a land about halfway between Norway and the top of the world. And my journey’s just begun.

This is Svalbard, a rocky scatter of islands lost in the high Arctic. I’m travelling from Longyearbyen, its prosperous Norwegian capital, to the mining community of Barentsburg, Russia’s forgotten frontier.

Without warning, the track sinks beneath a fresh drift of snow and I’m forced to swap the heated saloon of the truck with its cargo: a muscular red snowmobile.

Occasionally, due to the shift and tumble of the pack ice a glassy smooth hump breaks the surface, like the back of some huge, crystallised whale. While, punctuating the frozen desert’s surface, seals loll by blowholes, deer nuzzle for scraps of lichen and, somewhere, polar bears are watching.

It’s evening by the time I cross the only Russian border on the globe where visas are not required. I only know I’ve arrived because a windburned sign reads: ‘Баренцбург ферма участок’ -‘Barentsburg farm zone’ – a suburb of long, low barns housing chickens, cattle and pigs. The animals provide all the food the 700 residents need to see them through eight months of winter until, with the breaking of the pack ice, the first ships arrive from the Motherland. Barentsburg has no airport and, save for four months of the year is cut off from civilisation. No one in Barentsburg can afford a snowmobile.

At the centre of town an oversized bust of Lenin casts its frozen stare over the monumental Soviet buildings. A claxon sounds signalling dinner is about to be served in the communal canteen, and families shuffle out into the snow.

The Ferrari red livery of my snowmobile blows my cover. A man approaches.

“Can I help you?”

Alexei’s a miner from the Ukrainian town of Berdychiv, his thick moustache decorated with ice crystal baubles. He removes a glove to shake my hand.

Alexei insists on giving me a tour of his town. “I’m not hungry,” he says, his face smeared with the evidence of another gruelling shift.

Mining, the sole reason for the community’s existence, is heavily subsidised.

The remnants of old shafts and pit railways give a Klondike air to the huddled settlement. Alexei tells me the miners haven’t been paid since last summer but, when the Rubles do arrive, they’ll earn 12,000 a month (about £300).

Until then, families are granted food credit – there’s little else here to spendtheir money on.

With every season, the amount of low-grade coal coaxed from the town’s crumbling mountains reduces. “These mines would have been closed years ago,” Alexei says, “but Moscow hopes that, one day, other minerals will be found. Maybe oil.” Svalbard may be administered by Norway but, according to a treaty signed in 1920, 11 nations have mineral rights. Russia’s gamble – that it’s cheaper to keep this brittle community alive than cryogenically freeze it until oil is found – is currently under review. Until then, a matrix of over ground heating pipes piled high above the permafrost keeps the Arctic just about at arm’s length.

What little coal that makes it to the town’s dirty wharf usually ends its journey here, at the shore of the Greenland Sea. Russia doesn’t need it, and the mining company have only secured one sale in the past year. A scree of coal blackens the frozen bay.

“Compared to Ukraine, Barentsburg pays well. There are no coalmines where we come from. Russia closed them all,” Alexei says.

In summer’s endless sunlight, Alexei’s two daughters, with the rest of Barentsburg’s 50 children, can play basketball at midnight. But they need to be vigilant. Last year, an eight year old was mauled to death by a hungry young polar bear.

As we talk, Alexei proudly points out an Olympic sized heated swimming pool complex and huge, five-storied hotel. It could never hope to fill a single floor. The town’s only human-scale development is a memorial for the 140 miners who perished when their plane exploded in the mountains behind Longyearbyen airport ten years ago.

At the hotel bar we meet Tomas, a salesman for the Pernod-Ricard drinks company. “People thought I was mad coming to Svalbard to get business. But you should see how much these people drink.” he says.

We order a round of vodkas. Alexei insists on paying.

A high Arctic wind picks up, rattling the windows of the hotel, and launching javelins of icicles into the air. As the vodka delivers its instant spike of heat, Alexei raises his glass.

“To Barentsburg!” he says.

Big Apple, Bigger Burger

Posted by admin | Posted in Guest Articles | Posted on 12-07-2010

This article was written by Netflights who provide cheap flights to New York as well as deals on hotels and holidays to the big apple.

In New York City, the best sights are worth seeking out. Sure you should do the ‘big ticket’ items, but to really get to feel the city’s pulse you really have to go off-grid. And that goes for the food too.

But in a city that never sleeps, you need to know where to go to refuel – and you need to have your food served fast, fresh and finger-style. In other words, you need New York’s ultimate contribution to the world’s menus. You need a burger. And you need one in a New York Minute.

Flickr credit Jmoranmoya

There are burger joints all over town, of course. And many are aimed squarely at the time-strapped tourist (that’s you). But, unless you want a tasteless patty and soggy, lifeless fries, we’d say avoid at all costs.

Ditto the big chains. Sure you’ll get no surprises here – a Big Mac is a Big Mac after all. But did you come to New York to experience something you can taste in an out-of-town shopping park back at home? No, we didn’t think so.

So, for a genuinely memorable, meaty slice of all-American goodness, we’ll give it to you straight: these are the best burger joints in town.

As voted for by locals, they’re not the most obvious. But, make no mistake, they’re the real thing…

1) The Burger Joint at Le Meridien, 119 West 56th Street
You really have to hunt this hotel’s grill cafe down – it’s hidden behind velvet drapes in the lobby. But this is the real deal. Honest, plump and juicy burgers, served without fuss or fanfare. Orders are taken quickly, and whisked along a washing line. There are two choices – burger or cheeseburger. And they’re both well under $10. The best burger in town? Few who eat here would argue. Great for: Secret rendezvous

2) Prime Burger, 57-24 Roosevelt Avenue, between Madison and 5th Avenue.
With meat so good, the chefs will happily serve it blue (that’s raw to you and me), Prime Burger elevates the humble quarter pounder to haute cuisine proportions. The joint, though, is anything but swanky: a reassuringly old school slice of Americana, with its huge Formica counters, and a range of individual, private booths for one, this is about as fun as solo city dining gets. Ask for crispy onion rings, and save room for ice-cream! Great for: Solo travellers.

3) Paul’s, 131 Second Avenue, between St Mark’s Place and E 7th Street.
Ground mince, salt and seasonings. Nothing else. You’d think something so simple couldn’t taste so accomplished. But trust us, get it right – as they do at Paul’s – and you really don’t need to change a winning recipe. It helps, of course, that your raw ingredients are premium quality. Paul’s, of course, knows this more than anyone. Try their El Paso, with Cheddar and Jalapeno Peppers to add a zing to your step. Great for: Hearty appetites.

4) The Back Forty, 190 Avenue B at 12th Street
The Back Forty does posh – its dinners are comfortingly, reassuringly, elegant – but it’s posh with a decidedly casual twist. This restaurant started life as a humble burger joint and, you’ll be pleased to know, it’s the Grass fed burger with spicy homemade ketchup and pickle that still sets this brunch spot apart from the rest. A staple on the menu, and a warm and welcoming East Village atmosphere to boot. Great for: Cool kids.

5) Donovan’s Pub Restaurant, 57-24 Roosevelt Avenue
The best burger is not in Manhattan? Get outta town. Literally. And hot-foot it over to Queens – to the Irish tavern known around these parts as Donovan’s. Here, just over the East River, you’re definitely in locals’ territory – and you’ll be treated like one, even if you’re just hopping over for lunch. The best burgers in Queens – complete with a decent pint of the black stuff – await. Go for the char-grilled half pounder with home cooked steak fries and, quite honestly, Broadway can wait. Great for: Leisurely lunches.