My Life In Travel: Chris Patten
'One hotel in Pristina had clearly been built for the politburo'
Saturday 14 March 2009
First holiday memory?
Playing cricket on the beach in Dawlish, South Devon. I went there quite frequently as a child.
Whenever I go to our house in the Tarn region in France, which we've had since 1995. I first started visiting the region with my family when the children were small, and we would stay at a hotel in Najac. It's beautiful and the best example of la France profonde.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
Oxford, of course.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That there's a difference between travelling and seeing. Partly because of my jobs, I've been to most countries of the world, so I have a very intimate knowledge of the insides of hotel bedrooms, which all look the same.
Ideal travelling companion?
My wife. We're able to travel together more now than we used to. When I was European Commissioner, I used to make, typically, 180 trips a year, and those were mostly without my wife, with staff or on my own.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
Culture with a bit of flopping around as well, preferably in the sun.
Greatest travel luxury?
Being able to get my bags into the overhead compartment on the plane.
I used to have to read briefs for my next official meeting, but now I am able to read novels, thrillers and always one good serious book. I am currently finishing India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha, and I have just had a terrific time reading the thrillers of Don Winslow while travelling to and from Australia.
Where has seduced you?
Rajasthan knocked me for six. As for seduction, it would be Sydney, which I think is a wonderfully beautiful and exciting city. Its Royal Botanic Gardens are the most beautiful I've been to anywhere in the world.
Better to travel or to arrive?
I quite like the business of travelling – being sealed off from emails and telephone calls. I hate the idea that one is now able to make calls on a plane. I've just become an iPod fanatic, so I've been downloading huge quantities of opera, string quartets and choral music, which I listen to on journeys.
Worst travel experience?
Too many to mention, usually involving the middle of the night in an airport terminal somewhere I didn't want to be, with the airline continually saying that the plane had been delayed for 20 minutes when I knew perfectly well it wouldn't arrive for another six hours.
August 1979, on the north coast of Cornwall during the Fastnet gales, which were among the worst gales to have hit there. We sat shivering on a beach covered in oil, with two children, my pregnant wife and our oil-covered dog.
One in Pristina, Kosovo, clearly built for the politburo of the Yugoslav Communist Party – it was unbelievably grim.
The Danieli in Venice is pretty impressive.
Favourite walk/ swim/ride/drive?
Most are close to my home in France. I like walking on the Grande Randonnée trails, one of which passes our house. My favourite walk is from home to Cordes-sur-Ciel in time for market and breakfast on Saturday morning.
Best meal abroad?
I like really good Chinese food, and the best Chinese restaurants are in Hong Kong, with one or two also in New York – there's a very good one that does Sichuanese cuisine on 46th Street. I also love brasserie cooking, and Brussels has some great brasseries, like Comme chez Soi, where they serve absolutely perfect, simple, unpretentious food.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
See whether I can make the television work, and in India, try to find the cricket channel.
I'd love to see the Galápagos Islands, the South Island of New Zealand and Yunnan Province in China. Also, I've never had a holiday in Malaysia other than visiting Kuala Lumpur, so I'd like to do that.
Hong Kong, Sydney and Seattle, all maritime cities with great markets. Sydney's fish market is almost beyond parallel.
Jordan, Macedonia, and then India.
Lord Patten of Barnes is Chancellor of both Oxford University and Newcastle University; 'What Next? Surviving the Twenty-First Century', by Chris Patten, is published by Allen Lane (£25).
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