My Life In Travel: Alek Wek, model
'The travelling process is all in the anticipation'
Saturday 11 June 2011
First holiday memory?
I grew up in a small town in Sudan. There weren't many cars, so we did things in the countryside near where we lived. When I was 14 I came to school in London. I remember it was very cold, but also having to adjust and become fluent in English. It was less of a holiday, more of a culture shock.
Rincón in Puerto Rico. I went to visit a friend who moved there from New York to set up a surf school. I stayed at The Horned Dorset hotel nearby, where I went to sleep every night to the sound of the waves. I hired a car and travelled around the gorgeous countryside, stopping along the way at little street stalls to get fresh lemon juice.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
Hertfordshire. I recently went for a friend's wedding shower. We stayed at The Grove hotel, where they have a fantastic sculpture exhibition on. About 80 artists have their works placed throughout the grounds. The curator did such an amazing job – she planned it all earlier in the year so that the art would be surrounded by flowers when everything bloomed in spring.
What have you learnt from your travels?
All the exhausting aspects of my job are made worthwhile because I get to experience so many different cultures. It makes you really appreciate the memories. It's sometimes tiring to get off a long-haul flight and go straight to the studio for a shoot, but if you really plan everything well, you can get so much out of combining travel with work.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I'm a city person. I like it when everything is compact and accessible. That's why I love living in New York. You can get to places like Long Island with a short train or car ride, and if you head upstate it's full of writers and artists, and there are places like Woodstock, too, along the Hudson Valley.
Greatest travel luxury?
I always travel with one of my favourite blankets on the plane and take candles for the hotel room. When I'm travelling so much, it's nice to have that scent that reminds you of home.
At the moment I'm reading a collection of poems by the Polish writer Wislawa Szymborska which someone recommended. I like things that I can just dip in and out of.
Where has seduced you?
Baden-Baden – I went there earlier this year and it's really charming. There are beautiful houses on the hillside and I was there when all the flowers were coming out, so I took lots of walks.
Better to travel or arrive?
The travelling process is all in the anticipation. I like seeing all the sites as you fly into the airport, or taking in the countryside if you're travelling by train to somewhere like Paris. But arriving is also magical because you don't know what to expect. Especially if it's somewhere completely new.
Ideal travelling companion?
Ideally, my dog. I adopted her last year and they really do become your best buddy. But I'd feel awful making her go on a 15-hour flight to Japan or South Africa.
Worst travel experience?
I'm a trouper, so it takes a lot for me to really complain. However, once I was coming back from Germany to New York with another model on a small charter flight. It was lovely until about two hours in, when it turned into a rollercoaster ride. The plane was shaking, everybody was screaming – they really tried to keep us calm, but it was terrifying.
Blakes in South Kensington, London. It's my home from home. The rooms are cosy, with personalised touches. The service is impeccable and I've known the staff there for years.
A place in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It looked good when I Googled it, but we got there, and the pool was really dirty. They had all these chairs around it as if everyone was going to jump right in. I like vintage when it comes to clothing, but not in swimming pools. It was like time had stood still. They opened the doors, ready to welcome us in for business, and we just turned around and left. I didn't want to see the state of the bathrooms.
I recently did a charity walk around Central Park to raise money for Aids. It was only about five miles, but I did it with my friends and my puppy. It was memorable for the reason we were doing it.
Best meal abroad?
Kozue, the sushi restaurant in the Park Hyatt, Tokyo. I went there a year ago with my manager. It has amazing views and we really went for it. I ate tuna sashimi, salmon rolls, California rolls... pretty much everything on the menu. It was so fresh and casual; a really great memory.
Tswalu in the Kalahari. I went there last summer just for a couple of days on safari, but I definitely want to go back for longer. You take a small charter plane from Johannesburg out to the middle of nowhere. They pick you up in a 4x4 and you drive way out into the bush to this private residence with only a few rooms. You wake up early in the morning to look for wildlife, surrounded by beautiful landscapes. It's so peaceful. I've never seen so many stars at night.
I love San Francisco, for the community atmosphere. Berlin is really alive, the architecture is amazing and there's a real sense of history everywhere. And Dublin as well – it feels like a small town and the countryside just outside is beautiful for walking.
I'm going to Ston Easton Park hotel in Somerset soon – which I'm really excited about. A friend of mine is getting married near there so I can't wait.
Alek Wek is a guest judge on Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model, which starts on 4 July on Sky Living at 9pm
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