Monthly Archives: December 2016

Dance your way through a Queens in night out

Just a subway ride away from Manhattan, this energetic borough offers an array of drinking, dining and entertainment options – and won’t be as hard on your wallet. Mix and match the recommendations below to create your own perfect Queens night out.

 

Happy hour

If you like to get started early, the pubs, cocktail bars, beer halls and lounges in Queens are ready with enticing after-work specials. Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria has a giant patio area that makes it the perfect place to meet in the spring and summer, but the half-priced beer at happy hour makes it worth hitting up year-round. The interior and patio both have a classic beer hall aesthetic, with Czech, Slovak and American flags hung proudly from the fortress-like walls. Inside, you can catch sports and enjoy some classic Slavic cuisine with your drink.

Looking for a less conventional happy hour? Visit The COOP in Flushing. This Korean fusion spot has a great beer, sake and wine selection, but specializes in custom-made cocktails such as a lychee cosmopolitan. At happy hour you’ll find great deals on oysters and small-plate fare: kimchi egg rolls, fried chicken gizzards and their famous hot wings, which add a uniquely Korean flavor to the bar food classic. The ambiance at The COOP is tastefully modern, with dim lighting and flashes of neon – perfect to get you in the mood for a long night out.

 

Fueling up

When it’s time for some sustenance, you’ll be glad to be in Queens. The Astoria neighborhood has some of the best Greek food this side of Athens, and few restaurants are quite as revered as Taverna Kyclades. Its popularity means that there is usually a long wait for a table. Even in the winter you’ll find a crowd outside the restaurant, but the wait is part of the fun. The staff passes out glasses of wine, and the array of patrons make for pleasant company. Once you get in, it’s no surprise what draws so many people. Kyclades means ‘islands’ in Greek, and their food reflects that relaxed, unfussy island lifestyle. Whole, simply seasoned baked fish, grilled octopus, fried eggplant with garlic sauce – everything is done to perfection. Of course, you’ll want to make sure to add a bottle or two of Greek wine.

On the other side of Queens is Asian Jewels. During the day, this behemoth of a restaurant is known for its dim sum service, and at night they offer a full menu of Cantonese delights. The restaurant’s spacious, open interior is filled with large tables that either seat extended families, or mix-and-match smaller parties. The vast and varied menu features dishes familiar to most, like fried rice and sweet-and-sour pork, as well as traditional Cantonese dishes, such as beef with bamboo shoots and sliced cold jellyfish.

Decades before that it formed part of the Soviet Union

As I step out of Kyiv’s Khreshchatyk metro station, the Ukrainian capital’s tumultuous postwar history is laid out before me – in concrete and steel. The busiest, grandest boulevard of downtown Kyiv, Khreshchatyk street is lined by buildings of communist-era vintage. Some are highly decorated, others bear plain facades; but all are lofty, intimidating structures.

There are hints, however, of post-Soviet adjustments. Down the street I spot a large star surmounting an imposing apartment building. When Ukraine was part of the USSR, it must have been painted revolutionary red; now it’s a striking blue over yellow, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. And the metro station houses a branch of an American fast-food chain, sandwiched between Stalinist facades.

It’s outside this eatery I meet Anna, the guide who’ll be taking me on a walking tour of communist Kyiv. As I grew up in Australia during the Cold War years, I’m keen to learn what those times were like in the former USSR. Anna says I’ve come to the right place: after Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg), Kyiv was the third most important Soviet city. That’s one reason nuclear power plants were situated in the region, with catastrophic results in 1986 at nearby Chornobyl(commemorated in Kyiv at the sombre but interesting Chornobyl Museum).

The modern-day appearance of Khreshchatyk, however, was a consequence of the arrival of the German military. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the retreating Red Army had time to booby-trap and detonate its grand 19th-century buildings. With the additional destruction caused by aerial bombing of industrial areas, Kyiv was a mess by the end of WWII. Its makeover after the conflict was extreme.

‘We lost the opportunity to live in a fun city, because the architecture was gone,’ says Anna. The authorities saw the devastation as an opportunity to create a new Soviet-style city, rather than to re-create its old look. To my eye, it doesn’t seem that bad: on one side of the metro station, for example, an apartment building contains a surprising amount of detail in its tiles and pillars. On the other side, a slightly later building has a flatter, plainer facade. Even Soviet architects went through decorative phases, it seems.

Strolling along Khreshchatyk, we also see recent additions. One is a striking bust of the national poet Taras Shevchenko, mounted on a zig-zag frame of girders. A 19th-century nationalist who wrote in the Ukrainian language, Shevchenko is often compared to Shakespeare. Anna prefers to liken him to Robbie Burns, as she feels his role in sustaining Ukrainian identity mirrors that of the Scottish poet in regard to the Scots.

Great see sights on China

The unmoving landscapes of the Silk Road have enchanted travellers for millennia. Sights along the route have lasted down through the ages, from a time when monks travelled these roads bringing Buddhism back from south Asia, and traders exchanged silk for goods and spices.

Made up of a series of roads connecting Chinese capitals with south Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean, a voyage down the Silk Road remains one of China’s most epic journeys. Travelling the length of this route today, with its flaming red mountains, towering sand dunes and alpine lakes, still offers a very real sense of what ancient traders experienced. And in 2014, UNESCO listed the entire 5000km Tian Shan Corridor as a World Heritage Site.

Luckily, the Silk Road is ever-more accessible from the rest of Chinathanks to the opening of a new high-speed rail line through Xinjiang. This train will eventually connect the furthest reaches of China’s northwestern province to Xi’an, Beijing and beyond. Here we explore a must-see list of its east-to-west sights.

 

Army of Terracotta Warriors

Painstakingly cast as guardians for Qin Shi Huang’s – the first emperor of China – safe passage into the afterlife, the Army Of Terracotta Warriors was discovered in 1974. Since then, thousands of warriors, archers and chariots have been unearthed and remain on display just outside the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province. Xi’an is the first stop along an itinerary of the Silk Road from east to west – it was the capital of Chinese empires variously in ancient periods and its strategic north-central location on the Guangzhong Plain makes it a gateway from eastern China to the wild west. Today, Xi’an is a busy provincial capital home to numerous ethnic minorities, mainly Hui Muslims.

 

Labrang Monastery

One of the most important monasteries in the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Labrang Monastery in Xiahe was once home to 4000 monks and echoes of a time when Buddhism passed through this part of the world on its great journey through China, from south Asia to the Far East. Today, Labrang Monastery is home to 1800 monks and its grand prayer halls and intricate yak-butter sculptures remain a draw for visitors and monks alike.

Cairns and gin making in the Boyne Valley

At first glance, the famous cairns that cluster around the River Boyne, in counties Meath and Louth might elicit a shrug – most are simple passages leading into small chambers. But the more you look, the more fascinating they get.

Almost 100 Neolithic monuments make up the World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne (‘the Palace of the Boyne’), many dating from around 3200 BC, making them around seven centuries older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. They’re decorated with strange swirls and shapes and aligned with the sun and the landscape, yet so distant are their pre-Celtic creators that archaeologists are still guessing how the great stones were transported (possibly by river, or even rolled on seaweed) and whether they were built to honour the dead, the sun or the sea.

 

Stone Age magic at Newgrange and Loughcrew

Newgrange is the largest and most popular tomb, as well as the easiest to visit, via buses from the nearby visitor centre. Its 80m diameter is impressive, but the real thrill comes when you clamber through its dark tunnel, feeling the silence under muffled breath and gazing up at the enormous sandstone roof slabs as your heart stills and your eyesight sharpens. It’s hard not to feel a thorough connection to the living history of this place, an impression that swells as you stumble back out into the bright light and gentle hills of the surrounding farmland.

A trip to Loughcrew can be even more magical. That’s partly due to the lovely 15-minute walk from the winding R154 road, which takes you on a fairly steep climb into the Loughcrew Hills and views that stretch towards Dublin on one side and the Mourne Mountains on the other. And it’s partly due to the silence – even the most famous monument here, Cairn T, sees far fewer visitors than Newgrange. In summer, there are guides here to show you around (late April to end August), while in winter you can pick up a key from the visitor centre.