My Life In Travel: Jeff Banks, fashion designer
'We were stuck on a broken-down train in China for two days'
Saturday 04 July 2009
First holiday memory?
Going to Valley Farm Holiday Park in Clacton-on-Sea with my parents. I grew up in Catford, south London so going to Clacton – some 60 miles away – was an enormous distance. I'll never forget the excitement going on the train and then getting a bus to the caravan site, lugging these great big suitcases. We stayed in a little four-bed caravan that got flooded. The water came up into the caravan and I remember waking up and seeing a saucepan floating past and my father jumping out of bed into 3ft of water. The next thing I remember was my father saving people from their caravans; he was struggling through hip-height water with this enormous lady on his back and then eventually sank under the surface.
At a resort called Coco Point in Barbuda. The guy who owns it flew around in a plane for three years looking for the perfect beach and eventually found this one.
You walk out of your room on to white sandy beaches; it is the most beautiful place in the world. Favourite place in the British Isles?
The Ring of Kerry, which is absolutely beautiful; my family and I have camped there for two or three years running. It's the most beautiful countryside, with wonderful bays. I also do a lot of cycling; the road from Edinburgh to Moffat is the most beautiful piece of road in the country.
What have you learned from your travels?
The most important thing is to keep your kit together. You've got to decide what those vital bits are that you simply can't do without and never let them out of your sight. I have a tiny rucksack, which is very lightweight and doesn't hold much so I am careful about what I carry. I make sure there are enough essentials in it so that if everything else goes missing I can survive with just my little rucksack.
Ideal travelling companion?
Somebody that talks when you talk and knows to shut up when you want to shut up. You must be able to stand them in any circumstances and they must allow you to get ratty if something's gone wrong but still remain positive, forthright and giving constant encouragement.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
Adrenalin junkie. I do a lot of cycling, including a 1,000-mile bike ride each year with 10 mates. The head of the group, David, chooses the most difficult terrain. However, we all rise to the challenge, so we've done some spectacular rides like London to Lake Como, the length of Italy and La Diagonal from Brest in France to Menton. I think I've cycled up nearly every mountain in the Alps and a few in the Pyrenees.
I'm a big fan of autobiographies. I enjoy picking over other people's lives and seeing what makes them tick.
Where has seduced you?
The Maldives. There is not one view that is interrupted by anything that offends the eye. Whichever resort you go to, they pay expert attention and care. Second is probably Venice, particularly staying at the Cipriani for seductive attention to detail.
Better to travel or arrive?
To arrive. Travel these days, unless you've got the luxury of your own jet, is hard work. I even think that when I'm cycling long distances; although the scenery is fantastic, if you're climbing a mountain in the Alps and you're going up 3,000m, it's bloody hard work. So when you get to the top of the Galibier Pass, it's good to arrive!
Worst travel experience?
Getting stuck on a broken-down train in China for two days. We were in the middle of nowhere and we had no food. Second would be in Peru, where we went to film a guy for the Clothes Show who ran after alpaca and wrestled them to the ground to comb out their hair. We were outside Arequipa in the middle of nowhere and a guerrilla group called the Shining Path, which was very active in Peru at the time, started firing at us. They thought that it would be a real feather to knock out a member of a BBC crew so we crawled on our bellies back to this guy's little tin shack with bullets ricocheting off the corrugated iron . We holed up there for two days until the army came and dug us out.
A hotel in Bhuj, at the entrance to the Rann of Kutch desert in Gujarat. It was a tubular steel bed and a bit of shower curtain wire that doubled up as a wardrobe. There was a shared bath between every 10 rooms. It cost about 35p a day to stay there.
Hotel Raphael on Avenue Kléber in Paris is just beautiful. It has a faded glory, with beautiful art on every corridor. There are giant French beds and bathrooms that are bigger than those in the George V.
Best meal abroad?
I'm a vegetarian so I need to do quite a lot of research to get a good meal. My most memorable meal was in New York last year. It was in an old millionaire's mansion on the Upper East Side that had been converted into a restaurant. It was a giant oval room with a dome on it and they made me feel very comfortable. The food was immaculate and the service was nonchalant but attentive in the right way.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Dump my bags and get out for a look around, which can sometimes have disastrous consequences. The first time I went to Tokyo about 30 or 35 years ago, I was so excited at being there that I dumped my bag and sprinted out into the street. I strolled around for a couple of hours until I eventually realised that I had nothing on me with the name of the hotel on it and I couldn't read anything because it was all in Japanese, so I ended up spending the night wandering around in Tokyo because I couldn't find my way back to the hotel.
To cycle to Australia. If I ever had enough time off that I could plan a trip from here to there that would be amazing.
Venice first, London second. London always rates very high for me; I can't spend enough time here because there's always something new. Even though it's where I was brought up I still find it exciting and it still outdoes most cities in the world.
Getting on my bike in Greece for a 1,000-mile ride from Thessaloniki to Athens, taking a circuitous route over the mountains. We're doing 120 miles a day over nine days, in temperatures of up to 40C.
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