Tab Travel: Spend Winter Far Away
Thinking of getting away from it all in an exotic location? ANNA SHEINMAN advises you on the best winter breaks far, far away from Blighty.
If you have a last minute urge to get further away, here are my top three places to go west, go east or somewhere that’s kind of both this holiday.
The Big Apple is more of an apple-flavoured ice lolly (or popsicle, if you will) this time of year, with temperatures averaging zero, but the museums are warm, the coffee still hot, and the Christmas window displays nigh on magical. If you haven’t yet spent some time in NYC, flights get about as cheap at they’re going to the week before Lent Term begins, so now is your moment.
How to get there: Net flights.com currently have return tickets hovering at around £270 to return on the 16th January. You can also take your chances and keep an eye out for last second deals on lastminute.com.
Where to stay: The Dali-esque Gershwin Hotel is not hostel cheap, with dorm beds at $39/night and doubles starting at $60 per person per night, but it is gorgeous. Thoughtfully picked art covers this kooky, bohemian-chic hotel, which has artists (and we hear, models) in residence, and regular comedy and jazz nights.
Talking of jazz, Jazz on Lennox, at the other end of the spectrum offers dorm beds for $17 a night, and is clean, 20 minutes from downtown by subway, and breakfast is included.
What you could do: Gawk at the lights in Times Square (lots of adverts, in the cold. Hurrah.) Go shopping in Bloomingdales (horrendously expensive). Go to Ground Zero (why? Just, WHY?)
What you should do: Take the circle line ferry to see every NYC skyline Fraser/Gossip Girl has every thrown at you. Work up an appetite sorting through designer ends of lines at Century 21, then hit up Zabar’s on the upper west side for all your cheesecake needs. If your yearning for Jew-food isn’t sated (and when is it ever?) Katz Deli on the lower east-side has all the sizzling, oil soaked latkes a schmuck like you could want. Since you’re in the neighbourhood, Lower East Side Tenement Museum should be your next stop. They do walking tours of the area, and the museum itself has reconstructed apartments as they would have looked as waves of immigrants arrived in NYC in the 19th Century.(http://www.tenement.org/).
For something older, the small but perfectly formed Frick has a wonderful Holbein, and can be neatly followed by the Guggenheim. MOMA is a must do, and is free 4-8pm Fridays,. iIt has a particularly impressive abstract expressionist collection, including some seminal Rothkos. Go ice skating in Central Park. Girly girls, get your makeup done in Macy’s, just because it’s fun. On a more macho (and immensely fun) note, go and eatEat hot dogs and wave foam fingers at college basketball at Madison Square Gardens for $20 a head. Take a book to the east village and café hop. Grab takeout in those iconic white boxes from Chinatown. Ride the A train to 190th street, see the some medieval sculpture at The Cloisters, and take in the view over the Hudson. The meatpacking district is the centre of NY nightlife: get dressed up and turn on the charm to pass the velvet rope at the classy Griffin, or go slightly more casual at the Brass Monkey for a weeknight beer.
This frenetic urban hub is exotic, stylish, and not particularly cheap if you’re not careful. It is however extremely easy to get around and English is spoken everywhere, making it a stress free, very clean introduction to the east.
How to get there: Flights will, sadly, set you back £500 with all operators, Emirates tend to come out just about on top. May I suggest applying for a travel grant from the college? On a happier note, expect big sales on flights after Xmas and last second deals, so you might just get lucky.
Where to stay: Recommendations sadly mean very little in Hong Kong: competition for room space is fierce, the choice of where to stay will not be entirely yours. Use hostelworld.com for hostels, zuji.com for budget hotels, and sta.co.uk for student deals. If you do just turn up, Causeway Bay is your best bet for a cheap bed for the night.
What you could do: Tourists flock to fancy rooftop restaurants in Victoria Harbour to watch the lightshow, they tend to be overpriced, the lightshow not very impressive and the horrible pollution means you can’t see all that much. Much better to catch the ferry for $2 to the viewing platform in Tsim Tsa Tsui and admire the skyline. You could go designer shopping, but it is not a hell of a lot cheaper than sale shopping in the UK.
What you should do: Hong Kong doesn’t have a lot of visible history, having only really been built up by the British who arrived at the end of the 19th Century (although the lions outside HSBC have bullet holes from WW2). It does however have 1881 Heritage in Kowloon, a former colonial police station, reconstructed and now filled with shops, cafés and galleries. Indeed, in HK, shopping is the name of the game. Much more interesting than Dior, make a beeline for the Beverly Island Complex. Hidden inside these ugly commercial looking buildings are hundreds of small stores full of local designers and unique buys, including a whole shop for dresses made from paper whether it be newspaper ballgowns or a crepe paper shift dress.
Temple street market at night is the place for Chinese food. Sip a bubble tea from a street vendor in flavours from the ‘normal’ unsweetened red tea to soy, wheatgrass or caramel.Star Street in Wan Chai is full of off-beat independent restaurants, from Spanish Tapas to a full on American Diner, and an experimental Chinese dessert café.
Wander along Hollywood Road just above Central and stop off at whichever independent galleries take your fancy: no big names but a whole range of styles from traditional carvings to modern Chinese painting. Sing to your heart’s content at a karaoke bar in Tsim Sha Tsui. Bet on the horse races at Happy Valley Race Course on a Wednesday and Sunday; a Wednesday evening is particularly recommended for an electric atmosphere worthy of a Premiership match. Lan Kwi Fong is the obvious place to go out and will be overflowing with people on New Years Eve. Volar, the club slap bang in the middle of the quarter has a big student following. Wanchai is recommended for a cheaper night out: Carnegies on Lockhart Road does a good line in old school, and Skitz is free entry and open bar for girls on a Tuesday night.
Where East meets West: a land of warm greetings, hot sweet tea, and an even hotter night life. Istanbul has all the buzz of Rome, the dirt of Athens and the style of Milan, and some impressive social dichotomies to boot. Whether you want to wallow in the city’s 3000 years of history, or keep out of the cold in cocktail bars so cool you still almost shiver, Istanbul will provide, and with a smile.
How to get there: If you move fast, there are still some £60 Easyjet tickets. Hop off the plane, onto a bus, and be in the city centre in an hour.
Where to stay: this divides people. You can of course stay in Sultanahmet, slap bang in the middle of the old city, which I did, and hostelbookers will provide you with a whole list of well-priced, well kept, essentially identical places from where to do the major sites. Perhaps spend a couple of days there, then move across to Taksim (World House Istanbul comes recommended) to see another, slightly less sanitised version of this sprawling metropolis.
What you could do: Follow the tourist hordes around Ayia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar. On this well trodden path, only the palace is a real must-do. Ayia Sofia, once a basilica, now a museum, is very big, and has some very old paintings of Jesus on the wall. Once you’ve seen one big mosque, you’ve seen them all. If you haven’t seen a big mosque, do go to the Blue Mosque, it’s quite Blue inside. Pretty tiles. The Grand Bazaar is less like the souks of Marrakech, and more like an American strip mall. If you want a leather jacket however, (not particularly cheaply, might I add) that’s your place. Topkapi on the other hand, home of the Ottoman Empire, thus, who are we kidding: Aladdin’s Palace, is magnificent. Intricate tile work, gilded everything, and panoramic views of the Bosphorus makes this a stately home nothing like Buckingham Palace.
What you should do: Hang out in a tea shop under Galata Bridge, the bridge that links east and west, and watch the boats go by. Take a boat tour for 10 Lira that leaves from Eminonu docks at the south end of the bridge to see more of the city from the water. Haggle for ‘love tea’ or dried rose buds in the Spice Bazaar. To actually buy spices, walk the lanes surrounding Rustem Paca Mosque, and don’t buy saffron, which unless the price makes you squeal in shock, is definitely fake. Greek run café Pandeli in the northern wall of the Spice Bazaar, open only for lunch, has a huge reputation and prices to match. To eat more cheaply, avoid restaurants, avoid Sultanahmet, eat doner at the docks, or freshly fried fish at the food hall inside the fish market on Istiklal Caddessi. At night hit up the bars on Beyoglu, and sip cocktails until the small hours.