Kansas City, Missouri: the city Gone Girl’s Amy loved to hate | Guardian travel feature

Union Station and the Kansas City downtown skyline

Union Station and the Kansas City downtown skyline. Photograph: Robert Hull

Gone Girl’s Amy resents Missouri for its lack of hipster cool. But in real life Robert Hull discovers Kansas City, for one, is a place that’s buzzing with potential

Giant shuttlecocks lie, feathers in the air, on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It’s a statement of intent – at an institution more renowned for old masters – and a challenge to the preconceptions visitors might hold about Kansas City, Missouri. This, after all, is “Cowtown”, stranded in the midwest among the Great Plains. And it is a region that in Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s novel and the new David Fincher-directed film, the protagonist Amy Dunne resents for the people she calls the “nice enoughs” and for its lack of Manhattan hipster cool.

Flynn’s Missouri-set thriller is about Amy’s disappearance and the attempts made by police and her husband, Nick, to find her. But it is also about displacement. Before a forced move, the couple were happy New Yorkers, and Amy’s diary entries reveal her less-than-contented thoughts on moving to a “soulless” Missouri. But a real Amy would be wrong, particularly about Kansas City. And just to be clear, Kansas City, Missouri, is not Kansas City, Kansas – though they are only three miles apart and are separated by a state line.

The city’s downtown skyline is filled with public buildings, characterful warehouses, towering office blocks and new concert venues. Beyond them rolls the mighty Missouri river. This is a place eager to show off its renewal. It is where a $9bn investment programme has reinvigorated a previously ghost-town-like downtown and districts known for art (Crossroads), music (18th and Vine), food (River Market) and nightlife (Power and Light) are flourishing. Continue reading

Linwood Barclay on Toronto: Guardian travel interview

Linwood Barclay

Linwood Barclay (linwoodbarclay.com)

I spoke to the Candadian crime writer and former Toronto Star columnist on the views, food, art and design of Toronto that he loves …

Yonge Street is Toronto’s spine – and the longest street in the world too [recognised by the Guinness Book of Records in 1988], going on for hundreds of miles into northern Ontario. It starts at Lake Ontario and from there you can stroll up to the Eaton Centre, a massive, rather spectacular, mall. Follow Yonge up to Bloor Street and once you get to the intersection you’ll be in a shopping district of mainly high-end stores. But Bloor Street also has a little pocket neighbourhood, called Yorkville, that’s great to explore.

On a clear day you can see Niagara Falls from the top of the CN Tower. It’s still one of the tallest buildings in Canada, and if you’re brave enough you could try its EdgeWalk, where you can walk on and around the roof of the tower’s main pod – 356 metres up.

The best green space in the downtown area is High Park – all 161 hectares of it. It’s perfect for picnics and relaxing, there’s a small zoo and also Shakespeare in the Park outdoor performances here during the summer.

There is a spectacular view of the city from the Toronto Islands.They are just a 10-minute ferry ride from downtown (C$7 return). Once you’re there, you don’t hear the city traffic anymore. There are a lot of old cottages on the islands that people actually live in – they have leased them from the city. You can rent a bicycle and ride along little laneways. You’re only a mile or so from the city but it feels like they are 200 miles north, in the countryside. Continue reading

Hannah Kent on north Iceland: Guardian travel interview

Hannah Kent in Iceland

Hannah Kent in Iceland

The author on the dramatic Icelandic landscape that inspired her novel, Burial Rites, and which continues to fire her imagination

The first word that comes to mind when I think about Iceland is beauty. It has a strange but hospitable beauty, the kind that haunts you. Landscape and the natural world are always pre-eminent in my memories of it.

North Iceland is the type of place where you don’t necessarily have a conventional tourist experience – that’s more for the south of Iceland, with its “Golden Circle” of attractions, which you should still do, of course. With the north, it’s a case of finding your own way. Give yourself time and don’t rely on coach trips. Hire a car – you’ll need one to make the most of the place.

Prepare yourself for all weathers, because the weather will definitely shape your days in north Iceland – in ways you could never have imagined. It’s also important not to get too attached to any plans that you may have made. Things can, and do, change quickly.

If you want an alternative to a hotel, try a farm-stay holiday. Many of them offer horse-riding and other outdoor activities and they include self-catering cottages and lodging in traditional working farms. Icelandic Farm Holidays is a good place to start your search. Continue reading

Boston: Fort Point and Seaport, 11 of the best things to do | Guardian travel feature

Boston Tea Party ship and museum on the Fort Point Channel, Boston

Boston Tea Party ship and museum on the Fort Point Channel, Boston. Photograph by Robert Hull

Boston’s Fort Point and Seaport district is the city’s up and coming area, with a dynamic food scene, cutting-edge galleries and a decent line in craft beers. By Robert Hull

Flour Bakery and Cafe

Flour Bakery, Fort Point, BostonClose to the Boston Children’s Museum and just off buzzing Congress Street is the sweet satisfaction of Flour Bakery and Cafe. It was founded when Harvard-educated management consultant Joanne Chang swapped spreadsheets for cakes and cookies to became a pastry chef. Chang opened her first bakery-cafe in Boston’s South End in 2000 and the second in Fort Point, in 2007, and says the intention with each of the (now four) shops is they become a part of the fabric of their neighbourhood. The motto here is, “Make life sweeter … eat dessert first!” and it’s an easy ethos to buy into. You’ll probably still end up deliberating long and hard over which cake to order, though. But if it helps, the sticky buns with caramel and pecans ($3.50) are justly famous (foodnetwork.com/shows/throwdown-with-bobby-flay/2-series/sticky-buns.html), the chocolate melt macaroons ($1.75) slip down well with an espresso, and the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting ($5.50) will sate anyone’s sweet tooth.

  • 12 Farnsworth Street, flourbakery.com. Open Mon-Fri 7am-8pm, Sat 8am-6pm, Sun 9am-5pm

Trillium Brewing Company

Lean against the impressively solid bar at this family-owned brewing company during its tasting hours and you’ll get the chance to savour samples of up to three of its brewed-on-the-premises ales. If you like what you sup – and on our visit the note-perfect selection was a Belgian-style house IPA, the tropical-slanted Dry Stack Batch and the sturdy but smooth Pot & Kettle porter – then you can buy a glass or take some away in bottles or ‘growlers’. Though the building was acquired four years ago, the tasting room has only been open for 18 months. The site had to be cleared of Big Dig dirt from Boston’s public works highway project but there’s a local-legacy touch that comes from knowing the wood for that solid bar was donated by a place around the corner.

  • 369 Congress Street, trilliumbrewing.com. Tasting room hours Tues-Thurs 4pm-7.30pm, Fri midday-7.30pm, Sat midday-6pm

Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum

If a family-friendly activity floats your boat then indulge in some American revolutionary behaviour at a museum that’s on Fort Point Channel. The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum reopened in June 2012 following an impressive renovation, and its hour-long group tour is led by actors dressed up in 18th-century garb. It paints a vivid, though fun, picture of a city’s frustration at ongoing “taxation without representation” under King George III. And explains why, on the night of 16 December 1773, Bostonians gave vent to their anger at this by throwing crates of tea overboard from ships. Naturally, you exit through via a cafe and a gift shop that sell tea – it’s not water-damaged, though. Part of the annual re-enactment is now ticketed as the city makes a bigger spectacle of the event with a waterfront viewing area. If you’re tempted, the InterContinental Boston hotel, which overlooks the museum, offers Tea Party packages from $299 (intercontinentalboston.com/special-pkg/tea-party-package.aspx).

  • 306 Congress Street, +1 617 338 1773, bostonteapartyship.com. Open daily (winter/spring) 10am-4pm and summer/autumn 10am-5pm. Online tickets $22.50 adults, $13.50 kids

 

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (ICA)

ICA, Boston.

ICA, Boston.

When it opened in December 2006 in a prime Seaport spot with views of the harbour and the financial district skyline, the ICA was the first new art institution built in the city in nearly 100 years. The gallery/museum – designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro – keeps a fresh focus, too, with exhibitions and projects from artists including Ragnar Kjartansson, Adriana Varejão and Christina Ramberg, and in displaying work in a range of media. It organises group visits, offers regular free tours and film nights, puts on music events and talks, and has a superb resources room with a superlative view. Inside and out, its clean lines and fresh feel give freedom to the art to express itself and for the public to enjoy a relaxing space to take it all in afterwards.

  • 100 Northern Avenue, icaboston.org. Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm. Admission $15 adults, under 17s free

Continue reading

Boston’s Fort Point and Seaport district, a waterfront tale | Guardian travel feature

Wharfs and the Summer Street bridge, Fort Point, Boston

Wharfs and the Summer Street bridge, Fort Point, Boston. Photograph: Robert Hull

Fort Point & Seaport has become Boston’s go-to neighbourhood for great coffee, restaurants, galleries and much more. Robert Hull explores an area of harborside walks and artistic heritage …

The barman at Trillium Brewing widens his eyes and puffs out his cheeks. If a look could answer the question of how dramatic the changes have been in Boston’s Fort Point district, then this is it. It’s an expression replicated by staff in the now-numerous coffee shops, restaurants, galleries, bars and venues in an area gaining a reputation as the new entertainment hub of one of America’s oldest cities.

Fort Point’s rise has come amid eight years of a skyline of cranes, new office blocks and warehouse conversions. There is consensus on the reasons behind the boom – accessibility, investment and a food scene driven by chefs and restaurateurs such as South-Boston local Barbara Lynch (Menton, Drink, and Sportello), Ming Tsai (Blue Dragon) and Jeremy Sewall (at ultra-hip oyster house, Row 34). Where you won’t find accord is over what the area is called: some say Fort Point, others, Seaport. There are those who want to call it the Innovation District because of its draw for creatives – centred around the civic space ofDistrict Hall. Just don’t call it The Waterfront; Boston had one of those before this zip got hip. Continue reading

Kirsty Wark’s favourite places in Scotland : Guardian travel interview

Glenfinnan viaduct, Scotland

Glenfinnan viaduct, Scotland

The broadcaster and author on her favourite views in Scotland, the drinking dens to discover and the restaurants leading the country’s flourishing food scene. Interview by Robert Hull

If I were to describe Scotland to someone who didn’t know it, I’d say it’s a place of vast lochs, gentle hills and mountains – and that it’s beautifully green. I’d add that it’s also very easy to navigate because at its narrowest, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, it is less than 50 miles wide.

Though there are places in Canada,even vistas in upstate New York, that I’ve felt are very Scottish, I’d have to say nowhere can quite compare to Scotland.

The first thing you should do – or taste, actually – when visiting is to find a whisky that you like and have a dram. There are plenty of wonderful whisky shops, particularly in Edinburgh, which can help you with your decision.

Kirsty Wark

Kirsty Wark

My favourite city view has to be from one end of Edinburgh’s George Street to the other. It doesn’t matter which end. I also love the view of the Glenfinnan viaduct in the Highlands. It is a wonderful piece of engineering and, of course, Scotland has bred some great engineers. Viaducts and bridges are wonderful landmarks that string the country together. Continue reading

Iceland on film: a film-inspired road trip for Guardian Travel

Reynisdrangar seen from Vik, South Iceland

Reynisdrangar seen from Vik, South Iceland

There is no best-location Oscar. But if there was, as the makers of Prometheus, Game of Thrones and Thor have recently found, it would surely go to Iceland

The sun has yet to rise but the morning light is already illuminating the reasons why Iceland is renowned for its landscape. I’m standing on a helipad in the south-eastern town of Höfn: with its harbour behind me, I can see snow-covered mountains separated by four icy tongues, each part of the enormous Vatnajökull glacier.

A few lights glow yellow-orange in windows but the main colours are sky blue, a sliver of pink around the clouds and the dark-brown mass of mountains yet to reveal their rugged detail. I’m not waiting for a helicopter; this just seemed like a good place to take in the view … sort of. The wind speed is more than 40mph – that’s an eight (fresh gale) according to Mr Beaufort’s scale – and, as I frame a photograph, the wind inflates the hood of my parka and personal lift-off feels imminent.

Despite the conditions, the drama of this view makes it easy to understand why Iceland has, in recent years, become almost as popular with filmmakers as it is with tourists. And I’m here to explore the locations that have tempted Hollywood producers. Continue reading