My life in travel: Alex Zane
'I had no idea there are more than 120 natural springs in Budapest'
Saturday 23 November 2013
Alex Zane is a TV and radio presenter. He has recently visited some of Europe's top cities, in his role as an Amex Travel Insider (youtube.com/ AmericanExpressUK).
Favourite place in the British isles?
I've always had a love affair with the West Coast of Scotland. From the Isle of Mull – where I once capsized a kayak at exactly the same time as my companion spotted a basking shark – to Arran and the wonderfully named Loch Awe, it's a truly beautiful part of the world.
I travelled across Italy by train last year, starting in Venice then down to Rome before ending on the Amalfi Coast. Before I left, friends had been going on about the food, to the point where I'd started to think: "Well, it can't be that good!" But I took one mouthful from a plate of spaghetti alla vongole at the Antiche Carampane restaurant in Venice and fell in love.
What have you learnt from your travels?
To trust Becky with a stick. We were making a camp while trekking through Malaysia's Taman Negara National Park when I cleared the wrong piece of vegetation. I knew this because, as I turned around, my travelling companion Becky, said "don't move". She's not scared of anything, so the look on her face worried me. Apparently, I had a huge spider sitting right on top of my head, carrying its egg sac. Grabbing a stick, Becky gently knocked it off. I'll never forget how loud the thump was when it landed.
Ideal travelling companion?
While photographs are a wonderful reminder of your time away, nothing quite conveys the emotion you're feeling at that moment than putting pen to paper. I have great pictures from the summit of Borneo's Mount Kinabalu, but when I re-read my journal entry on that day, it takes me back.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
Certainly not a beach bum. I went to Barbados for a beach holiday and while The Colony Club was lovely, and the beach amazing and quiet, I lasted only a couple of days before my mind demanded input.
Greatest travel luxury?
A leather-bound travel wallet. I get laughed at because it looks like an over-sized purse, but when others are scrabbling through pockets looking for their passport or boarding card, I just pop that baby open and it's all there.
I'm a huge fan of sci-fi novels. I remember when I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, it felt like I'd stepped into the pages of one of my books or on to the set of Blade Runner. The rain was lashing down, the Petronas Towers loomed over me, a monorail passed overhead, while vast glowing video billboards played out adverts I didn't understand.
Where has seduced you?
Budapest. I had no idea there are more than 120 natural springs there, which feed into loads of thermal baths. Bathing is a big part of everyday life there – it's a pretty good way to start or end your day. I went to some fantastic restaurants and bars too – one called Szimpla, had a bisected Mini Cooper as a booth. Other standouts were the roof terrace at Hotel President and the Café Kor, where, by complete chance, I ended up having dinner next to John Hurt.
Worst travel experience?
Eating a squid stir-fry at an outdoor market in Bangkok. I hadn't planned on ever seeing that squid again, but it had other ideas. I vowed never to eat squid again and I never have.
I was driving up the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to San Francisco and stopped for a night at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. It's this kitsch motel where each of its 110 rooms has a different theme; I wanted the Yahoo room because your bed is a wagon. Instead, I got Vous. It's called that because it has the only circular kingsize bed in the motel, which is described as being "perfect for that special rendezvous". A little bit wasted on me, as I was travelling alone.
I was making a documentary about movies shot in San Francisco so needed to visit Alcatraz while there was no one there. We set sail before dawn and began shooting before the sun came up. Walking down cell block A, in the dark, with no one else around, was truly memorable.
Best meal abroad?
I was just outside of Port Of Spain in Trinidad, when I had my first roti. I love simple street food and this is one of my favourites. Curried chicken or goat in a paratha wrap, eaten while wandering around the city streets was delicious.
Berlin. I went recently to check out the urban adventure scene. You can do things like base flying, where you jump off the side of a building and fall 100ft, which is brilliantly petrifying.
New York for New Year. I've always loved the city but I think NYE in NY will be something special.
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