My Life In Travel: Dr Iain Stewart

'I'd stay outside for 20 minutes and my eyelids would start to freeze up'


First holiday memory?

Going on a school trip to Dinard in Brittany. It was the first time I had been away from home. The first trip I did on my own, though, was when I started my PhD on the geology of earthquakes; I went to Greece to stay in a little village called Pisia, which is in the Corinthia area on the mainland.

Best holiday?

I went to Turkey with my two daughters a couple of years ago, where we were based around the spectacular cascading limestone pools at Pamukkale. It was primarily a sun-and-swimming holiday, but we managed to get a bit of geology and archaeology crammed in for me, too.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

The Highlands of north-west Scotland. I did my undergraduate work there while I was at university and it's extremely beautiful. When the sun goes down, there's nowhere else like it in the world.

What have you learnt from your travels?

I've learnt to get to the airport in time. I used to be very blasé, but I've learnt from experience and have gradually started to arrive earlier and earlier over the last few years. However, I still spend too much time in the departure lounge and have to dash to the gate at the last minute.

Ideal travelling companion?

The travel writer William Dalrymple. I think that he brings forth a lot of history and cultural context that I'd love to be able to have one day.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I like culture with a bit of beach thrown in.

Greatest travel luxury?

These days it's my iPod, which unfortunately cuts you off from the local culture immediately!

Where has seduced you?

New Zealand's landscape seduced me immensely – it's spectacular. I really enjoyed Argentina, too. I spent two weeks in a place called Jujuy in the foothills of the Andes, and it made me want to explore more of the country. I loved the vibrancy and friendliness of the people.

Holiday reading?

I try to read while I'm travelling, but it tends not to be much in the way of novels these days, because I am usually cramming in factual and geology books for my work. I'm reading The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery at the moment. He's a great Australian writer, and the book is about climate change, which is what I'm focusing on for work next.

Better to travel or arrive?

Definitely to travel. When you're a geologist, travelling through a landscape, you're going through something that is both familiar and also intriguingly unfamiliar.

Worst holiday?

I went to north-east Siberia, which was amazing and interesting, but it was so bloody cold that I wouldn't go back. Doing anything normal was so difficult; it was too much hard work for me. I'd stay outside for 20 minutes and my eyelids would start to freeze up.

Worst hotel?

A hotel in northern Madagascar. As we entered the lobby, the first thing we saw – before anyone else – was a rat. It actually scuttled towards us as if to greet us. We slept on our clothes. It was a beautiful place but a really dodgy hotel.

Best hotel?

Amanjiwo in central Java, near Yogyakarta. I had just finished climbing Mount Merapi and I was put up there for one night. It was really lovely and my room had its own private pool on the terrace.

Best meal abroad?

It was on a family holiday in Lucca, Tuscany with my parents-in-law. We ate beautiful, simple, but expensive Italian fare in the village square.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

My favourite walk is in Loutraki on the Perachora peninsula in Greece. There's an archaeological site and you walk from there down to a beautiful lagoon called the Blue Lake, to a cluster of little restaurants.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Check for Wi-Fi access – not very romantic, I know.

Dream trip?

I'd really like to go to Madre de Dios island in Patagonia. It's a fantastic-looking place and I just really want to go somewhere that's called "mother of god" island!

Favourite city?

Istanbul has a buzz as soon as you arrive. The city is also under the looming threat of an earthquake, which gives it an added dramatic tension.

Where next?

Hopefully to Kilimanjaro, to look at the tropical glaciers there, but it hasn't been confirmed yet. Sadly, they are disappearing rapidly.

Dr Iain Stewart is the presenter of 'Earth: The Power of the Planet', available on DVD (£19.99)

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