Sunday, February 22, 2015

My life in travel..

An appropriate location for Oscars night

As regular readers (you poor things) will know I have spent much of the last thirty years flying around the world on business.  I've been to sixty-three countries in that time.  Indeed, the normal greeting I get from people I haven't seen for a time (as happened this week) is "where have you just come back from?" This is because they assume I must have just come back from somewhere.  While initially very exciting (my first business trips were to Rome where I discovered exciting Italian women and the fact that foreign women thought people from Britain were attractively exotic), the experience of travel has palled, especially since September 11th.  A few years ago I had a job which involved me being out the country for about 180 days in a year.  I have been consciously trying to cut down my time away from the UK for some years and last year I managed it: No days out of the country (unless you count Scotland) for the first time in nearly thirty years.

Who wouldn't want to travel to the Pyramids with the lovely Liz Bonnin?

Now this week I was watching a documentary about Egypt's lost cities, fronted, as it were, by the lovely Liz Bonnin (and some man but I don't register men).  While searching for a picture of Liz for one of my appreciated ladies pictures I came across an interview she did for the Independent called My life in travel, which seems to be from a series they have run.  Excellent, I thought, another post I can do without having to have painted any more soldiers  (actually I have done an hour today on some Carolingians and a Pulp company I am working on) and apposite as I am determined to stop flying around the world this year and ,therefore, some reflection would be appropriate.   However, having decided that I really can't take any more flying I have just learned this week that it looks like I will be unable to avoid a trip in April.  Grr!  Anyway memories are much better than the ghastly reality of travel so here I answer the same questions as in the interview with Miss Bonnin.

First holiday memory?

I was on holiday with my parents in Dinard in Brittany in the summer of 1962.  I remember the Tour de France coming to the town and I also remember a helicopter landing on the beach nearby (probably linked).  I can still remember it quite clearly.  It was also the first time I was allowed wine with dinner.  My parents would probably have been locked up these days, for letting me drink wine at the age of two and a half.  I haven't stopped since.

Best holiday? 

The Legatus's sister explores the massive metropolis that is Margaret River, Western Australia

In 1987 I went with my sister to visit our aunt in Perth, Western Australia, to watch the America's Cup (which my aunt was involved in).  We stayed in the city for a time and then drove down to the wine regions of the Margaret River ;visiting Sandalford Winery and Leeuwin Estate, amongst others.  We also made a visit to the Cape Mentelle vineyard where they were selling the very first vintage of a wine from their sister winery in New Zealand: A stunning new Sauvignon Blanc called Cloudy Bay.  We stayed in a nineteenth century Australian National Trust house and enjoyed the civilised practice of being able to take wine you had bought in the vineyards into the local restaurants to have with dinner. My sister, aunt and I found the triple bottle boxes you could buy at the vineyards were just the job for dinner!  We came back via a few days in Hong Kong and went to Macau on the hydrofoil  (where the Shanghai scenes for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) were filmed.)  Part of our excursion included a trip across the bridge from Macau to mainland China, at a time when it was very difficult to get into the PRC, but because of my sister's job at a secret organisation we couldn't go, sadly.  Good food, stunning wine, lovely weather and my sister is always amusing company.

 Favourite place in the British Isles? 

The entrance to Newtown Harbour in West Wight (the posh end)

The Isle of Wight of course!  Like Britain in the nineteen fifties but with surprisingly different landscapes across the Island and you are never far from the sea.  Good local beer, several vineyards, Roman villas, excellent crustacea, a tank museum, dinosaur fossils, boats and yachty totty. Splendid!  I was amused to see a Lion Rampant scenario set on the Isle of Wight in the new Miniature Wargames magazine!  This I will have to do!  Honourable mentions to Bath, Oxford, Somerset and Edinburgh.

 What have you learnt from your travels?

Around the World with Baggit - Toronto, I think

Don't take too much stuff!  I can do up to two weeks with hand luggage now.  Hand luggage in the form of Baggit, as my shoulder bag is known (I'm sorry, hand luggage with wheels is for girls).  Waiting at airport baggage carousels, hoping your luggage will appear, adds even more stress to travel than normal so with hand luggage only you can whiz right through.  Except in Los Angeles, when they didn't believe that I could do a week long trip on hand luggage and I had to take everything out to prove it.  

 Ideal travelling companion?

Another fleapit hotel

Well there are several ladies I have enjoyed travelling with, such as my particular friends S, C (C is S's ex girlfriend - yes it is all very complicated) and because they all enjoy their wine and food, like art galleries, speak lots of languages and are a delight to share a bottle of Champagne with in the bath (I do not like hotel rooms with showers as your glass immediately fills with water).  My daughter is good company too, although I don't, of course, share baths with her (well not since she was about one).

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia

I get bored on a beach after about two hours and anything that induces adrenaline is obviously dangerous and therefore to be avoided.  I do make the odd exception for mountain biking.  I have cycled from Banff to Lake Louise in the Rockies, come down Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler on ski trails, gone off road in the French Alps and also cycled in Switzerland, Vancouver, Copenhagen, the Black Forest and in Bogota (fortunately they close a lot of the main roads to traffic on Sundays).  What I most enjoy, however, is to visit the local art gallery or any military themed museums or historic ships I can find.  Also, I do actually like being in hotels and I am quite happy staying in them all day rather than forcing myself out to wander around somewhere ghastly (like Asia).

 Greatest travel luxury? 

Laguna Beach, California

A necessity rather than a luxury.  I can't go anywhere without my iPod (and it's pre-digital forbears) and, hopefully, a playlist of appropriate tunes.  I've listened to The Mummy soundtrack while wandering around the Pyramids at  Giza, Miami Vice in South Beach, Resphigi's The Pines of Rome while walking along the Via Appia Antica, The Third Man in Vienna, Boy on a Dolphin in Athens, From Russia with Love in Istanbul etc.  Oh, and my Ray Bans.  Can't go anywhere without my Ray Bans!  Even if it does mean that the sunniest places then suffer from unprecedented rainfall for as long as I am there.

Holiday reading?

Sometimes a novel linked to my destination (Murder on the Orient Express when I last stayed in the Pera Palace in Istanbul) but more often a historical, military novel of some sort.  The Kindle has revolutionised my reading when away from home, as I don't have to start a new book for every trip, leaving me with dozens of half read ones. 

Where has seduced you?

The Legatus in the Roman Forum in 1986.  Picture taken by Princess I

Probably Rome, in every way imaginable.  It is a very seductive lifestyle (well it was the way I lived it in the eighties and early nineties when I spent months on end there) with splendid hotels, wonderful food and wine, epic Roman ruins, renaissance splendour, and many, many lovely (and friendly) girls.  The traffic is a nightmare, though.  I drove a car once in Rome.  never, ever again!

Better to travel or to arrive?

About to leave on my worst flight ever.  70mph winds in a floatplane over Vancouver Island

My thoughts on flying are well known.  I do not enjoy driving either but I do enjoy travelling by rail.  But, I am never happier than when I unlock the door of my hotel room, can unpack and have a local beer while I plan the rest of my stay.  I try to arrive at a hotel at about five pm.  Just time to get washed and changed and into the bar for a Vodka Martini by six thirty.

 Worst hotel? 

The Hotel Centrum in Łódź in Poland.  Over-bright fluorescent light in the grim hotel reception area, whose idea of a bar was two stools in front of a very small counter where a grumpy looking girl was watching Poland's version of Strictly Come Dancing and completely ignoring any potential customers.  The room itself had had the door kicked in so many times that there were five old bolt mountings on the door with broken safety chains hanging from them. The light in the tiny room was so dingy you couldn't read by it.  Outside, prostitutes got into fights over territory.  One night was more than enough.  Happily it has since been demolished!

Best hotel? 

Art Deco splendour at the Imperial?

Colonial elegance in Hanoi?

Teutonic efficiency in Berlin?

For service, public areas and general ambience the Imperial in Delhi is very hard to beat.  The Metropole in Hanoi is almost perfect and has a number of stunningly good restaurants.  Closer to home, I am always very happy in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin, which has a truly sensational  restaurant, the Lorenz Adlon, which has two Michelin stars.  I had one of the best meals of my life there a few years ago, with my German friend B, even if they did have a bottle of mineral water on the list at £26.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

The Seven Sisters from Seaford Head

Probably the walk from Seaford (where both my aunt and uncle and sister lived) to Eastbourne over Seaford Head and the Seven Sisters, as it offers one of the most iconic views in England.  Much seen on films and TV, the trailer for the forthcoming film Mr Holmes (2015), about an older Sherlock Holmes and starring Sir Ian McKellen, has the characters walking up the hill in the foreground of the picture above.  The beach at the top left was where Kevin Costner landed when returning from the Crusades in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991).  On the beaches below the cliffs, photographer Bill Brandt shot most of his famous abstract nudes after World War 2.   Just before the first Gulf War I watched pairs of A10 Thunderbolts doing training passes up the Cuckmere Valley (just visible at the top left) at about seventy-five feet.  It is the only undeveloped river mouth in the south of England and, therefore, much used for geography field trips.  There is a pub called the Golden Galleon, about a mile inland with a wonderful view of the Cuckmere valley which is, however, not what it was.  It used to have a micro brewery there and made a wonderful beer called Saxon Beserker (8.5%!). I also ran over the Seven Sisters doing the Seven Sisters Marathon many years ago.  The biggest off-road marathon in Britain, it was, for many years, the only mixed marathon in the world where the course record was held by a woman (Sarah Rowell, a friend of my sister).  Hills, stiles, mud and, when I ran it, sixty mile an hour winds that caused them to abandon the race just after I finished it.  At one point, going up the first hill of the Seven Sisters I had to lie down and hold on to a gorse bush to stop myself being blown over.  

Best meal abroad?  

Engineered lobster in Washington DC

I do go for over the top five star hotel restaurant food.  I am not one of these people who enjoys eating street food in Asia or anywhere else.  Not just because you will likely end up with dysentery but because I hate eating on the go.  I don't want to stand up and eat.  I want to sit down at  a proper table and take my time.  I do not do fast food of any type.  As I mentioned, the Lorenz Adlon was sensational but I have also had transcendent meals in the Willard Inter-Continental in Washington DC, The Blu restaurant in the Shangri-La in Singapore,  the Hotel Angleterre in Copenhagen and the Five Sails in the Pan Pacific in Vancouver. Although, to be honest, I cannot always separate the enjoyment of the meal from whoever is my companion at the time!

 Dream trip? 

8.15 am in January.  It's cold!

PS Sudan

I have been to Egypt several times but I would really love to go up the Nile on the PS Sudan, one of Thomas Cook's original Nile steamers from the 1920s, which they used for the David Suchet version of Death on the Nile.  Staying at The Winter Palace and Cataract hotels, of course.  Egypt needs to calm down a bit first, however.  Other than that, I would love to go to New Zealand to look at Middle Earth properly.  A bit too far, though, for me now, I think.

Favourite city? 

Tricky one this.  Depends on my mood.  Washington DC, Vancouver, Toronto, Rome, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna?  I'd even put Edinburgh on the list, now.  If I was forced to choose one it would have to be Vancouver, admittedly perhaps, for certain reasons other than just the city itself.

 Where next? 

The Orient Bar at the Pera Palace Hotel

It looks like Istanbul in April.  Only four hours flight, I suppose, and I do know my way around the place, which helps.  I'll probably stay at the Pera Palace again, which is where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express.  


  1. Hey! Finally get to see you without the shades. Nice reflection that one less traveled (and less able to) can enjoy those interesting sites and peoples vicariously. I figured you'd have slowed down after 9/11. Have you been to Mycenae or Troy? Just curious as you've been around those areas a lot.

    1. Sadly, I tend to only go to places with a Finance Ministry building!

  2. An excellent read as always. Travel can be fun or grueling depending on where you are going and how often you are traveling.

    1. Maybe I will recover my interest in it if I have a few years off!

  3. A great read and the Isle of Wight has to be top of my list too, Freshwater Bay

  4. A great read Legatus. Admittedly, I haven't traveled a great deal, but hope to rectify that when I retire.

    Seeing that picture of the Seven Sisters reminded me of the scenes at the start and finish of Quadrophenia - it's where Jimmy (Phil Daniels) sent Sting's scooter off one of the cliffs.

  5. Wonderful run down... I must admit I am not the best traveller... I dislike airflight now, Long haul UK to NZ twice put me off... now that I am here and that every else is a long way I don't think I'll be travelling much now! I am also a bit of a miser now and hate spend money on hotels and meals out... but I do like visiting and checking out historic places, which puts me in a quandary as how to do it easily without stress and on a budget! ;-)

    1. New Zealand certainly isn't a convenient centre from which to see the sights of the World!

  6. Another entertaining post. Istanbul is a fascinating place, so much to see if you have the time to spare. The interior of the Hagia Sophia literally took my breath away, the most impressive man made building I've seen to date. A short walk away is the remains of the Hippodrome of Constantinople (Sultan Ahmet Square) which is like the Piazza Navona but which still has Roman features in place.

  7. "Splendid" post...! For your April Istanbul trip could you not leave a day early and go by train??

    1. You can make the trip on the Orient Express once a year (it takes five says and costs just over $9000 a head) but sadly that leaves in August!

    2. Little more than the day before, but they reckon 3 nights here (via Belgrade and Sofia).. :o))

  8. I went to Istanbul on business 5 years ago. It was to attend a presentation given by a large Turkish company to my client and various other banks. It wasn't supposed to be a big meeting but on the days dozens of people from the other banks turned up. Just before the meeting began my client turned to me and said "I'm afraid that because there are so many people here we are going to have the meeting in Turkish." So I sat there for almost 5 hours listening to people talk in a language I don't understand. Right at the end someone asked me a token question in English - out of sympathy, I expect. Earlier in the day I'd gone to the client's board room to get changed into my suit. Just as I took my trousers off the cleaning lady walked in. And then after the meeting it transpired that I'd been booked into the wrong Marriot - not the one by the airport but the one "on the Asian side", halfway to Iran. I'm hoping that I never have to go back to Instanbul. Ever.

    1. That is not good! I have been to Turkey dozens of times but have been totally unable to master even a single word of Turkish Fortunately In istanbul they have adopted the word "merci" for thank you at least!