My life in travel: Griff Rhys Jones, comedian, actor, writer and presenter
'I'm likely to be travelling in India with my head in a book about Patagonia'
Friday 08 June 2012
Where have you just returned from?
I recently sailed from Cannes to Genoa to see the Puccini opera Turandot. We went for about five days and it transpired to be the ideal break for me, because it was April and we had a good lot of wind in our sails. As far as possible, I prefer my holidays to be adventures.
I often find myself tramping around really exotic locations for work with a film crew and an access-all-areas pass. So many holidays turn out to be rather feeble alternatives. I think the best one was a sailing holiday around Corsica. It's how I imagine the South of France must have been 60 years ago. There are still untamed wild parts where you can pull up into an anchorage that's completely deserted. It was a great little trip.
What have you learnt from your travels?
Never lose your passport. It sounds crazy, but a while ago I had to jump off a boat in Ecuador that caught fire in the middle of the night while we were cruising around the Galapagos Islands. My passport was on the boat, so I found myself in Ecuador, with no way of identifying myself and was unable to withdraw any money. Luckily it was all resolved, but we spent most of the next week visiting dusty offices all the way across Quito. It was an experience.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I'm a terrible souvenir hunter of a rather expensive kind. My favourite activity is to sit in a rug showroom and look at old carpets. I've done it through the night before, for a 12-hour stretch. It was quite an achievement to get the owner of one particular shop to show me his whole collection. In the end, I still didn't buy anything.
Greatest travel luxury?
A waterproof running jacket that packs up to the size of a fist.
The iPad is the best form of holiday reading. I used to find myself paying excess baggage because of the number of books I was carrying around. Now I can load as many as I want and take my pick. One of the things I read more than anything else is travel literature. I like Paul Theroux and Jonathan Raban especially. I'm likely to be travelling in India with my head stuck in a book about Patagonia.
Where has seduced you?
The southern coast of Finland. There are 179,000 islands and travelling through them is an almost unknown experience, unless you're on a boat, as we were. It's like landscape out of a computer game. I long to get back there and explore it again. It's the most amazing place.
Worst travel experience?
The two worst words in travel are "guided tour". I remember being on one in Rio de Janeiro where we had to lock the guide in a hotel and run away from her. I was tired of being marched up to Corcovado on a schedule. I wanted to wander around, shopping and looking at all the beaches. I didn't want to be presented to the world as a tourist.
A place I stayed at in Port Sudan when I was travelling through with Comic Relief. It had one of those ceiling fans that looks like it's about to come crashing down. The furniture was made out of chipboard and covered in laminate. The bed had the imprint of the last people who had slept in it. It's the sort of place where Peter Ustinov would have gone in a dirty white suit and got drunk.
The Hotel Reale in Orvieto, Italy. It's the former royal palace of King Umberto I. We were doing a bicycle tour of southern Tuscany and Lazio and, at the end, we stayed in Orvieto.
The hotel didn't have any modern facilities, just the most wonderful frescos on the ceilings and marble bathtubs. There was no lift, no reception area and no phones when I stayed, but it was perfection.
Along the Pembrokeshire coastal path. It undulates all the way like a roller coaster. It's what people would call a distinctive landscape.
Best meal abroad?
When I was in Genoa, I'd been given a tip about a place called Trattoria da Maria, which was hidden away down some little alley. We paid €12 for three courses – which is an unbelievable thing on the Italian Riviera – and the food was just brilliant.
I'm still fantasising about getting down to the Chilean lake district. I'd have to go walking or running or cycling. I wouldn't go to a hotel and lie around like a fool. It would be an active exploration. I've only been to a little bit of South America, so I'd like to go to the other end of the world in Chile.
Rome. People tramp from the Forum to the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain to the Spanish Steps, but there's so much more to it. Rome is inexhaustible.
When I'm there, I just walk and walk and walk until I've seen all of it. I've made programmes about London, New York, Paris and Hong Kong, but without a doubt, Rome is the city I want to go back to. I'd love to live there.
I'm off to Antibes to race some boats.
Griff Rhys Jones hosts Channel 4's new comedy panel show 'A Short History of Everything Else', on Wednesdays at 10pm from 13 June.
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