My Life in Travel: Iain Banks, author - 'Venice is an unfailing source of happiness'
Saturday 04 December 2010
First holiday memory?
A camping holiday round Scotland – sorry, sunny Scotland – when I was... well, but a nipper, in the antique Bedford Utilibrake van that passed as a car for us, back then.
Possibly just a couple of years ago with my smashing girlfriend, by train through France to Spain. We took in Barcelona, Murcia, Cáceres and Madrid before heading round the Med via Marseille for Verona and then Venice, stopping in Paris for a few days on the way back. It took about three weeks and was just splendid. There were many highlights, but finally seeing the Puente Romano at Alcantara, Extremadura, was possibly the greatest.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
Home, here in Fife, I guess. Other than that, it's Glenfinnan in the Highlands, where we have some very good friends with a place looking out on to Loch Shiel and the Highlander monument at the head of the loch, with the famous viaduct just a little further up the glen. It's where we keep a small boat during the summer. The midges can be horrific and I understand it has felt the odd drop of rain, but it's still wonderful. My favourite island is definitely Barra, plus I've become a big fan of certain attractive English towns I might never have visited but for going on book tours – like Beverley, Buxton, Ely and Wells.
What have you learnt from your travels?
Be organised, think things through, always do the passport-tickets-money check even though it feels like a ludicrous cliché, and be friendly but a little wary. Buy wee rather than big souvenirs or be prepared to deploy – or even buy – extra baggage. And, ideally, have your itinerary drawn up by my super-organised, smashing girlfriend.
Ideal travelling companion?
The SG, of course.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
None of the above; I might have thought I was a culture vulture, however a traipse round the Accademia in Venice with its smothering surfeit of piety convinced me otherwise. I'm more into just wandering around staring at pretty landscapes, buildings and stuff in general.
Greatest travel luxury?
The Bridge luggage; it looks great and it's tough as old boots. It's a bit heavy, but it has been known to draw compliments from hotel porters, and they've seen a few bits of luggage. I even had one bit customised so it would open up flat for use as a weekend bag.
Usually all novels, about 50/50 science fiction and mainstream. I am yet to join the e-book revolution, though I have managed to read full-length Shakespeare plays and quite long bits of books on my iPhone.
Where has seduced you?
La Serenissima. Venice is just uniquely beautiful. Stepping out of Santa Lucia station to discover the Grand Canal beyond the station steps is an unfailing source of happiness. However, had you used the word "gobsmacked" rather than "seduced", I might have said the Grand Canyon, or the Great Barrier Reef.
Better to travel or arrive?
Generally I'd go with the latter because by my age you have a pretty good idea where you want to go in the first place and so you're looking forward to it.
Worst travel experience?
In 1975; standing outside Bologna in the pouring rain for eight hours while – in theory – hitch-hiking but not getting a single lift.
There have been a few bad 'uns; one in Lausanne years back that happily has been thoroughly renovated since; one in Brighton where it took three moves before we found a room that wasn't either basically open to the elements or didn't have bits of metalwork poking out of the mattress; and a B&B in Stornoway that required you to choose your breakfast the evening before and then served it between 8.30 and 9am. Hilariously, they tended to lock the front door just as the evening ferry docked, so they could concentrate on serving dinner (or perhaps to stop guests escaping). The electric radiator only held on the wall by a carefully positioned chair didn't fill one with confidence, either.
I love Gleneagles, The Connaught in London, the Isle of Eriska Hotel, Inverlochy near Fort William and Le Petit Nice Passédat (thought that's really a restaurant with rooms), and the Glenfinann House Hotel is a regular haunt, as is the Balmoral, in Edinburgh. But I guess the Luna Baglioni in Venice comes out in front; the location helps a little.
From here in Fife to Glenfinnan, taking the back roads that keep you off the A9 for as long as possible. The section climbing out of Gilmerton into what feels like the true start of the Highlands never fails to fill me with joy.
Best meal abroad?
That would be at the aforementioned Petit Nice Passédat, a couple of years ago, and last year as well.
That drive to Glenfinnan, on a sunny day. I'm sure there are plenty of fabulous trips I haven't taken. I gave up flying a few years ago, so I suspect most of them will remain un-taken.
Paris and Venice, by train.
Surface Detail by Iain M Banks is published by Orbit, £18.99
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