Grown-up Travel Guide News Update – 24.07.2012

In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel

London’s hotels and restaurants empty ahead of Olympics

The Guardian

Five-star London hotels are discounting their room rates by nearly half and top restaurants are easy to book. Even house rentals are disappointing.

It’s one of central London’s top five-star hotels, regularly voted among the best on Trip Advisor. Yet this week it will discount its standard rate from £350 a night down to £200 amid a collapse in bookings ahead of the start of the Olympics.

“We don’t normally discount below £250,” said the manager, on the understanding that neither he nor the hotel would be named. “But although the hotel is fully booked for the duration of the Olympics, it’s exceptionally quiet this week.”

International visitors and domestic travellers avoiding London because of the Olympics have left hotels, restaurants and theatres unusually empty in the last few days before the start of the Games. “Even The Ivy has told us it has tables free. Usually it’s us ringing them trying to find a table,” the hotel manager said.

When the Guardian tried booking a table at The Ivy, a favourite celebrity hangout, the online reservation system said there were no tables free between 5.45pm and 10.15pm this Wednesday. But when we telephoned instead, we were instantly offered a table for 8.30pm (and no, we didn’t say we were from the Guardian).’s Secret Hotels service, where many hotels discount rooms cheaply on the basis that the name of the hotel is not revealed until after the booking is confirmed, is carrying scores of central London four-star hotels this week at just £59 a night and five-star luxury from £110 a night. Rates rise to £100 and £180 a night respectively a week later, during the Olympics.

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48 hours in Arctic Svalbard

Toronto Sun

The guide checked his rifle once, then again, before turning around to give a reassuring smile.

“We haven’t seen many ice bears near town this year, they’re not yet hungry,” he said.

The Svalbard archipelago on Europe’s northern edge is probably the remotest and wildest place in the Arctic with regularly scheduled flights, so get there quick before the crowds discover its crystal clear waters, glaciers and wildlife.

Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a short stay in Svalbard.

7 a.m. – Although this guide is written for a trip in the summer, when the sun does not set, do consider visiting in the dead of winter, when darkness reigns, temperatures fall to minus 30 Celsius and the community comes together like a large, extended family.

Longyearbyen, the islands’ capital, will be your base and though the town has done good work reinventing itself, it is still mostly a mining town and not really your main attraction.

Svalbard, roughly the size of the Ireland, boasts spectacular glaciers, pristine fjords, millions of birds that feed on the fish of sea, walruses that tan on the rocks and of course, polar bears, or as the locals call them: “ice bears”.

Svalbard’s 3,000 polar bears outnumber the human population so take warnings seriously: never leave Longyearbyen without a guide because you can encounter one of the 600 kg (1,300 pound) killing machines anywhere.

Your guide will carry a rifle, will know how to use it and most importantly, will know how to scare off a bear because killing them is absolutely the last resort.

So, begin your weekend by taking one of the many organised daytrips out of Longyearbyen. The top two picks are Barentsburg, a Russian mining town left over from the days of the Soviet Union and Pyramiden, a Russian ghost town abandoned during the 1998 Russian financial crisis.

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Monster swells threaten popular Aussie beaches

Huge swells are washing away trees, fences and exposing foundations and protective rock walls at some of the Gold Coast’s most popular beaches.

Swells reaching more than 4m have eroded the Gold Coast’s coastline and forced the closure of many beaches, the Gold Coast Bulletin reported.

Beaches are closed today from Elkhorn Avenue north of Surfers Paradise to the Sheraton – including Main Beach, Breaker Street and Narrowneck – and south of Surfers Paradise at Clifford Street, Broadbeach (Margaret Avenue) and Nobbys Beach.

The closed beaches are not expected to open at all today. Meanwhile, walking between Miami and Broadbeach and between Surfers and Main Beach is also not recommended this morning on the incoming tide due to erosion in some areas.

Surfers Paradise beach will remain open today, as well as Northcliffe, Kurrawa, Mermaid Beach and the beaches from Miami south.

A GCCC spokesman said beaches at Nobby Beach, Broadbeach (at Margaret Avenue) and Narrowneck were closed from 6am yesterday to ensure public safety, especially as children frequent the areas.

“We want to ensure community safety so there will be maintenance reprofiling to restore the beaches,” he said.

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All Nippon grounds five Dreamliners for repairs

USA Today

All Nippon Airways (ANA), the launch customer for Boeing’s 787 “Dreamliner,” has had to ground several of its 787s to correct an engine defect, according to multiple media reports.

“We’ve exchanged a total of seven engines in five aircraft, cancelling two domestic flights,” a spokeswoman confirms to AFP for a story today.

ANA spokesman Ryosei Nomura tells Jon Ostrower of The Wall Street Journal that two 787s that had been grounded have returned to service but the other three “will need another few weeks to fix.” Ostrower added in an afternoon update that “a Boeing spokesman, speaking later Monday, said a third plane had resumed service.”

ANA has been able to avoid more cancellations by substituting other aircraft on routes flown by the grounded Dreamliners. Of ANA’s five affected 787s, only one has been dedicated to long-haul service. The other four are configured in a short-haul domestic configuration, according to Ostrower.

ANA is just one of two airlines that has put the Dreamliner into regularly scheduled service. The other – Japan Airlines (JAL) – is unaffected by the problem ANA is having with its 787s.

That’s because ANA’s glitch is reportedly related to the Rolls-Royce engines used on its Dreamliners. JAL’s 787s use engines manufactured by General Electric (EC), JAL spokesman Seiji Takaramoto says to Reuters.

GE’s engines have not been hit the same issue that’s affecting the Rolls-Royce engines. As for the Rolls-Royce issue, AFP writes “Rolls-Royce discovered the defect — corrosion inside the gearbox — during endurance tests.”

“The extent of the issue with ANA appears relatively minor at this stage, given that (three) of the aircraft have already returned to service,” Reuters quotes RBC Capital Markets analyst Rob Stallard as saying in a research note on the incident.

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