My Life In Travel: Dan Snow, historian and television presenter
'The best way to see the world is from a boat'
Saturday 18 June 2011
First holiday memory?
Hammering through the waves in a typical south-westerly gale on the Solent, from Beaulieu river to the Isle of Wight. My sisters and I literally tied down on a boat with my dad [journalist Peter Snow] wrestling against the elements and us being thrown around wondering whether we'd die. I have this flash memory of the boat keeling over, the sails flapping and the rain coming down.
The Canadian Rockies. I went with my girlfriend last year to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. Every day we did a long walk. We went up one particular mountain, Mount Wonder, which lived up to its name. And I proposed to her.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
Loch Merkland in the far north-west of Scotland. I've been there with good friends and it's an amazing place to walk. You get all the seasons in one day – wintry storms, boiling sunshine – it's just the most majestic landscape.
What have you learnt from your travels?
To appreciate home. Not just in terms of creature comforts, but also politically and socially. Travel has made me realise I'm lucky to have been born in a Western European democracy. It's also brought an awareness of the vast span of history and why it matters: why one country is different from another and each has its own unique past.
Ideal travelling companion?
Doctor Stephen Maturin of the Patrick O'Brian novels – a man whose knowledge of botany and biology would have complemented my complete lack of knowledge in those areas. I've never been to South America, so I'd like to cut through the rainforest and the Galápagos with him as my guide.
Greatest travel luxury?
My BlackBerry. I can be in contact all the time should anything bad happen, send pictures to annoy everyone at home and it's also got GPS so I don't get lost.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
A mixture of culture vulture and adrenalin junkie. Recently in Syria I had to hack my way through the undergrowth – some forbidding creeks, hills and cliffs – to look at the remains of Crusader castles. It was a nice marriage of the two.
Books that are relevant to the country I'm in. In Cambodia I read endless accounts of the genocide, such as First, They Killed My Father, which was really quite harrowing. In Zanzibar I read the The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie about the spice trade and falling in love in sultry climates. And in Central America, some Gabriel García Márquez, so I can feel a bit less Anglo-Saxon and a little more Latin.
Where has seduced you?
The Middle East. My parents were both journalists, so I first went when I was 12. You can strike up a conversation with anybody about an obscure historical past and they'll have an opinion. A taxi driver will sit talking for an hour about Mohammed capturing Jerusalem in the 7th century. People are very erudite and hugely cosmopolitan. It's a phenomenal region.
Better to travel or arrive?
Arrive. I feel the travel part in my old bones now I'm 32. When I was younger, I was very peripatetic. Now, the older I get, the happier I am arriving.
Worst travel experience?
Being detained by the police in Nairobi after my friend had an altercation with a tour guide. We got put in a cell for a few hours, but were saved by an Anglophile police chief, who got chatting to us and brokered an agreement between the two parties. We were released unharmed. It was completely mad.
The worst hotels are the ones that have aspirations of grandeur. I'd rather sleep on a mat on the floor than something overpriced that will give you food poisoning because it has a grand salad buffet.
The Mount Assiniboine Lodge in the Rockies was ideal. There were century-old cabins with incredible views and no hot running water – you had to use a gas stove to heat it.
The South West Coast Path, from the edge of Exmoor to the shores of Poole in Dorset. There are almost primeval cliffs stretching down to the ocean. The sections I've done are absolutely beautiful.
Best meal abroad?
Eating fresh salmon and lake trout from a Canadian river right after I'd been fishing. We ate it over an open fire – it was incredible.
I'd like to go down the Mekong or the Yangtze or even the Rhine, all the way from source to sea, on a boat or a raft. That's the best way to see the world.
Istanbul. It combines that incredible sense of history, with stunning scenery and I particularly like rooftop restaurants and bars, which it has an abundance of.
I'm making a programme about the archaeology of the Second World War for the BBC, so I'm off to all sorts of places – Holland, Northern Ireland, France – visiting battlefields where there is still a remarkable amount of material.
Dan Snow is a judge for Academy Excellence Awards, which recognise achievements in students aged 16 to 18 ( academyexcellenceawards.co.uk).
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