My Life In Travel: John Humphrys
'A hotel in Africa offering good tripe and onions is to be applauded'
Saturday 03 November 2007
First holiday memory?
Going from our home in Cardiff to Aberystwyth for a few days when I was five or six. It was memorable because we went on the bus – working-class families didn't have cars in those days – and I was sick all the way there and all the way back.
Seven weeks crossing the US with my (then) small family: across the southern states, down to Baja California, up the west coast and back through the northern states. We had an enormous station wagon, so the kids could sleep in the back through the boring bits, and we carried a big canvas tent and mostly camped out. The most exciting bit was when a big black bear set about licking the grease off the metal tent poles while we slept inside, and almost brought it down on us. His mouth was so close to my head through the canvas, I swear I could smell his breath.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
West Wales. The Pembrokeshire coastal walk is heaven.
What have you learnt from your travels?
Nothing. I make the same mistakes all the time.
Ideal travelling companion?
My eldest son, who's as keen on walking as I am. Now I'm working on my youngest – but he's only seven, so it will take some time.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
None of them, really. I've bought a place in the Peloponnese, which means I can swim in the mornings and walk the hills in the afternoons. It's perfect – at least it will be when it's finished. If you want a quiet life, I do not recommend building a house in Greece. I'm promised it'll be finished by Christmas: they just don't say which year.
Greatest travel luxury?
Books, which are both a necessity and a luxury. But a private jet might be nice. (Not that I'd ever use it.)
You name it. But it's always nice when a new Le Carré comes out.
Where has seduced you?
The Peloponnese. It's the perfect combination of glorious coast, glorious hills and glorious history.
Better to travel or arrive?
What's to like these days about travelling? After 20 years on the road – sometimes away for nine months of the year – I told the BBC that was it. No more. I did go to Iraq for Today last year, but that was an exception. Correction: THE exception!
Worst travel experience?
The last one. It doesn't get better.
Probably a long weekend in Istanbul when I picked up the worst stomach bug I've ever had. It was my own fault for swimming in polluted water. It was a hot day and there were some scruffy kids swimming off a pier in the middle of the city, so I jumped in. The locals looked at me as if I were mad, which I was.
Most of them. I dislike staying in hotels, because it reminds me of work.
I spent a lot of time at the Meikles Hotel in Salisbury, Zimbabwe, and grew surprisingly fond of the place. Any hotel in the middle of Africa that can offer good tripe and onions is to be applauded. I haven't been back since Mugabe set about destroying the country.
I like the West Wales coastal path for walking, and my own bay in the Peloponnese for swimming.
Best meal abroad?
At Harbour House B&B, in Hobart, Tasmania. There are few hotels in Tasmania, so almost all tourists stay in guest houses, which range from semis to stately homes. It's a fantastic way to get to know a country. It was Sunday night, so everywhere was closed and the landlady cooked us lobster that her husband had caught that morning, with salad from her garden.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Panic. And then, like most others I suppose, set about trying to make it as similar to home as I can. Funny that, eh?
I've done too much travelling to have any left, but I suppose I'd like to get to the summit of Everest. A couple of years ago, I got to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, but there's something pretty powerful about the prospect of standing on the roof of the world. Sadly, too many people are doing it.
Wales and the Peloponnese over Christmas.
'In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist', by John Humphrys (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99)
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