Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Florida's Greatest Food Challenges

Forida is known as a place where everything is bigger and better - the theme park rides, the sports and certainly the food. If you're the competitive type, why not check out some of the restaurants below, all of which offer unique challenges for the truly hungry.Whether you're sweltering over the Inferno Soup at Nitally's, chowing down a 48oz steak or eating ice cream from a kitchen sink, you're sure to have a great story to take home with you whether you pass the test or not.

 48oz Steak Challenge at Don Shula's Steak House

Launched by former NFL coach Don Shula in 1989, this restaurant chain quickly gained a reputation as one of the best places in Florida to sink your teeth into some prime Angus beef. Each restaurant is themed after the Miami Dolphins' "Perfect Season" that Shula presided over in 1972, when the Dolphins became the only team in NFL history to finish the entire season undefeated.The chain is almost as famous for its 48oz Porterhouse steak, dubbed "The Shula Cut". Holidaymakers who manage to finish all of this titanic T-bone in one sitting are rewarded with induction into the restaurant's 48oz Club, which would certainly provide a few bragging rights back home. However, guests have their work cut out for them if they're planning to beat the record of superfan Taft Parker, who to date has eaten over 175 of the giant steaks - earning a commemorative football from Don Shula himself for his achievement.

Shula's Steak House Orlando, Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, 1500 Epcot Resorts Blvd, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830

Inferno Soup Challenge at Nitally's

If you've got a taste for the spicy stuff, you may have finally met your match at Nitally's Thai-Mexican restaurant in St Petersburg, Florida.This challenge isn't for the faint of heart: the Inferno Soup contains fresh ghost pepper. At over 400 times stronger than Tabasco sauce, it's the hottest chilli known to mankind - in fact, it's so hot the Indian government has reportedly considered using it in non-lethal hand grenades. For good measure, the restaurant throws about a dozen other varieties of pepper, including three kinds of jabanero, into the dish.The owners of Nitally's initially offered a $150 (£96) reward to any steel-tongued guest who can finish the soup in less than 30 minutes, but as of July 2011 not a single customer has managed it - prompting them to raise the jackpot to $800 (£512).

Nitally’s Thai-Mex Cuisine, 2462 Central Ave, St Petersburg, Florida 33712

The Kitchen Sink at Jaxson's Ice Cream Parlour

Americans love to round off a meal with a good ice cream sundae, and entering this classically-styled parlour in Dania Beach, Florida is like stepping back in time to the age of soda jerks, Cadillacs and rock 'n' roll. There's also a dessert on the menu that's a meal in itself and then some. The Kitchen Sink isn't just a clever name - it really is served in a full-size kitchen sink, plumbing and all. The servers behind the counter are invited to let their imaginations run wild putting everything they can think of into the colossal sundae, with toppings including marshmallow, chocolate, strawberries, cherries, fudge and sprinkles.
In this case there's no reward for finishing the food besides the satisfaction of a job well done, but at $12.95 (£8) per person - for a minimum of four diners - it's a whole lot of ice-cream for your cash.

Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlour, 128 South Federal Highway, Dania Beach, Florida 33004

Friday, 21 October 2011

I'm a Guardian travel writing panelist now

I recently took part in an online  Q&A session for The Guardian as part of their panel, giving advice to potential new travel writers. It was an intense lively session proving to me there is no shortage of people still seeing travel writing as a potential career.  Hearing so many different views on the subject, I came to realise how difficult it must be for anybody faced with the prospect of selling their ideas to editors.
There is sadly, no easy route. You must be prepared for rejection many times over, simply because whatever your idea, there will be someone who has no doubt thought of it before you. Either that or like a lot of us, you are the victim of a collective delete of the in box without even a read of a single mail. I discovered this through the power of Outlook and when challenged the reply was "I've been on holiday, it's press day and I've got 140 emails in my in box".
And they call this a profession?
Luckily for many aspiring travel writers, there is an answer and that is the power of the Internet. Blogs are becoming big business as is online travel writing, so do not despair, just do it yourself. After all, if you can prove you have a wide readership, you'll be half way to editng your own travel site.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Virgin’s Premium Economy Class makes ordinary life a lot less ordinary.

I’ve always harboured a secret sense of loathing toward business and first passengers, although I’d never admit it in public. Their smug looks when they get to check in on that red carpet attended to by handpicked airline staff ready with a waiting smile and fresh flowers to ease them through check in is frankly almost too much to bear. They get private lounge access of course, but we don’t get to see that bit thank goodness, just their backs as they whisk through security using their special fast track passes while we wait in line with the hoards getting ordered to remove our belts and shoes like we’re about to begin a prison sentence. The smugness returns in the departure lounge of course when they get to board first, and then we have to do the walk of shame filing past them on our way towards the back as they serenely down their chilled glasses of bubbly as we fight over hand luggage bin space.

There is however a chance of salvation; an affordable opportunity to at least touch the hem of heaven and take a tentative step onto that first rung of travel smugness. Thankfully, with Virgin’s Premium Economy, we mortals get the chance to savour just a little bit of that high life for a reasonable extra cost.

We get a separate check in for a start. Slight smugness points there. And then we get to board first with the big boys too. Loads of smugness points here, because no one else knows which class you’re in until you get on board. The wider, softer seats are very comfy and whilst they may not be flat bed seats, (although they are as wide as many business class seats on other airlines). the extra leg room and spring loaded foot rests allow you some real stretching room. Now comes the good part. While everyone else shuffles past, you get to sip that envious pre take off drink, and that rattles up bucket loads of smugness points in my book, whilst eating a quality meal off a china dinner service with stainless steel cutlery makes all the difference in the world.

Of course after an eleven hour flight you just want to get off and on with your life and fortunately Premium Economy passengers get to get off first with those big boys again and you can enjoy that final bit of smugness when you collect your luggage  from the Upper and Premium only carousel. Oh the joy.

I’m a fan of Virgin’s Premium Economy.  It’s an excellent choice on so many levels, letting you enjoy many of the trimmings of business travel without it really hurting your pocket too much.  Now if only we could get a private lounge.........

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Lot Valley has the Lot. And what a lot it's got!

I was in the Lot Valley recently and it is a corner of France I've never visited. More to the point, it's a corner of France that many people haven't visited unless of course, they are in the know so to speak. The regulars love it and it's almost a well kept secret. I say almost because now I've found it, it won't be secret any longer. It is chocolate box perfect. A collection of beautiful medieval villages perched on top and around majestic limestone canyons towering over the river below. It's an area of intense beauty, but more than that, it's a pice of authentic south west France that still retains it sense of rural life with prices far below those of its more famous Dordogne neighbour. The Lot has it all, Malbeck wines, canard, fois gras and even tobacco and walnuts. I loved The Lot a lot. And I can't wait to go back there.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Finland and suicides? You have to be kidding!

On a recent trip to Tampere in Finland, it was pointed out to me that not only do Fins have the highest numbers of suicides in the world but Finland has an extraordinary amount of domestic violence. It is something to do with the long dark winters and high levels of booze consumed. perhaps this is true, but my personal experience was a very positive one. I found them to be charming if a little reserved, hospitable and proud of their nationalality. The Tampere countryside was spectacular squeezed as it is between two huge inland lakes.
Forget the hustle and bustle of Helsinki. Tampere has history (Lenin planned the Russian uprising from there) theatres and some top eateries.
How can you even think of suicide in a such a striking city.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Veuling, a Spanish airline really going places.

We do get very attached to aircraft. Particularly when we are in them at 30,000 feet. Just imagine then, how much more intimate a moment you’d have if you were on first name terms?
Elisenda Masanda and I clicked almost instantly. Her smooth yellow tones and XL seats were made all the more attractive by the soft Spanish words that were emanating from her speakers.
Now, I’m all in favour of chocolates and champagne on a first date but somehow when you know that the new object of your affections is quite literally holding your life in her hands well, then it’s a whole new ball game isn’t it.
Sadly, our brief relationship was over before it had really begun, but I knew in my heart we were destined to meet again. And we did, some three days later in Seville airport. There she was, tantalisingly out of reach in the arms of another on her way to Athens, so on the bounce I turned my affections towards Connie Barjara who had a much better set of engines on her anyway.
Before you think I’ve lost all my marbles, let me just say that flying with Vueling makes you think a little differently. It’s an airline that has a refreshingly alternative way about it. It was the first airline to let you choose your seats on booking, it has XL seat options, you can put your boarding pass onto your phone and you can pay using Paypal. Its ground breaking in-flight themes have royally entertained passengers with cat walk shows to Cirque de Soleil. They have even presented a French version of the vagina monologues! But my personal favourite? The Jade Jagger designed night club version called Jezebel in partnership with MTV, complete with gold seats, pink lighting and even a glitter ball to round it all off so to speak.
Vueling is a thoroughly modern thinking Spanish airline sitting between low cost carriers and scheduled services, proving that value for money flying is not just all about treating passengers like production line cattle. This is an airline with a personality and a visionary CEO who cannily understands that providing passengers with an entertaining and positive economical alternative makes good business sense. And with a 7% increase in revenues and 11% increase in capacity compared with the same quarter last year, the signs are that he is bang on.
Their fleet of 35 aircraft (which includes my lost loves Connie Barjara and Elisenda Masanda named after their 2 millionth and 5 millionth passengers by the way) are state of the art Airbus 320’s and operate out of southern Spain connecting directly to many destinations in Europe including London, as well as north Africa and Russia.
So, bring on my flying night club and crank up that audio. Now, where did I leave my medallion and chest hair wig…..

Brookes Adrenaline Walker

The feeling was undeniably like walking in butter, made all the better because I knew the shoes were doing good things for the dodgy tendons in my feet. The old adage you get what you pay for comes very much to mind with these babies, because at around £90 they are somewhat costly. But when you consider the physical benefits, you shouldn’t think twice about it.
Brooks has been in the sports high performance shoe business for decades and produces footwear coveted by Olympic standard athletes the world over. The shoes cater for runners and walkers of all pursuits from track and field to road and rough terrain like many of the fashionable brands, the difference with Brooks is It produces footwear biomechanically designed to seriously protect and support all kinds of gait. Collapsed arches, foot pronation, wide sole and general build. The result? A shoe that will provide the support you need to be able to feel comfortable throughout your outdoor activity, whether you’re a long distance runner, a sprinter, or just a normal person like me who enjoys a good walk.