My Life In Travel: John Suchet, broadcast journalist
'I enjoy following in Beethoven's footsteps'
Saturday 30 July 2011
First holiday memory?
My father was born in South Africa. When I was three, he took my brother and I back to Cape Town on the Union-Castle shipping line. I remember treading on a lit cigarette end and howling my head off on the boat; my wind-up toy car sailing through the railings; and people dressing up in silly clothes as we crossed the equator, which used to be a tradition when the line was still running.
A belated honeymoon with my wife Bonnie to Skopelos in 1986. It was the first year that this Greek couple, Theo and Eleni, had opened their hotel, the Agnanti. It's still operating today. Back then, there was no airport, which meant it was really unspoilt. We hired bicycles and bombed around on a moped to lovely beaches. It was an idyllic two weeks.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
London. I live in Docklands now, right in the heart of the city. The thought of grassy fields and birds in the trees actually sends me bonkers. I can't wait to get back to the concrete pavements again.
What have you learnt from your travels?
Working as an ITN reporter cured me of my wanderlust for airports. They used to be romantic places, where you jet off to far-flung destinations; now they're simply a nightmare. For the rest of my life, I have no desire to step outside of Europe. You can go on an amazing holiday to Thailand, but the 12-hour flight home leaves you feeling wrecked.
Ideal travelling companion?
My mobile phone. I cannot conceive being out of touch even for a minute. I'm a journalist, born and bred. I used to go on holiday and tell the news desk not to hesitate to get in touch. But they never did. I want people to call me at the drop of a hat.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I travel a great deal in Europe for research because of my love of Beethoven. I'm halfway through writing my sixth book. I've been to Vienna, Bonn, Prague and Bohemia, where there are still so many places that he knew. But if I set out for a beach break, I'll happily sit with a load of books in a deck chair and do nothing.
I've got a stack of books to get through on my next trip. A new biography of Bismarck by Jonathan Steinberg; Forgotten Land by Max Egremont; Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski. All very light-hearted stuff. The older I get, the heavier my reading becomes.
Where has seduced you?
France. As a young correspondent for Reuters, my first post was in Paris. I've since become an unreconstructed Francophile. My wife and I bought a house in Gascony in 1989 and it introduced us to a whole new way of life. The locals take no prisoners; they don't speak of word of English and their accent is difficult for even the French to understand. But I love everything about them; their food, wine, culture and character.
A parador outside Seville – one of those old castles that have been turned into beautiful hotels. Bonnie and I were both desperate for the holiday. Except it was cold, unfriendly and we sat on the balcony with blankets over our knees looking like a couple of pensioners.
The Hotel Sacher in Vienna. It's on the site of a theatre where Beethoven premiered many of his works. It's also famous for inventing sachertorte; a delicious Viennese chocolate cake with whipped cream.
There's nothing quite like strolling along the River Thames. The embankments on either side of London have absolutely come alive since the Millennium. When I was growing up, it was all rat-infested warehouses.
Best meal abroad?
In Gascony, the local delicacy is duck. What they do with the meat there is beautiful; they treasure it and not a single thing gets wasted. We were taught to enjoy it with sweet white wine.
My youngest son is a news anchor with Russia Today television. I'm visiting him at Christmas and I want to take the express train journey between Moscow and St Petersburg, which apparently now only takes a few hours.
Vienna, which was the first place I went abroad without my parents and where Beethoven lived all his adult life. My love for the composer came later on though. On that early school trip I went to the Vienna State Opera and saw Fidelio; it meant absolutely nothing to me.
I'm visiting Bayreuth and the venue that Wagner built in Bavaria; he said his operas should only be performed in his own theatre. I've got a ticket to see Tannhäuser. I'm promised they are like gold dust; apparently one is being delivered to my hotel room. I've yet to get my hot little hands on it, so it's possible I'll get there and get turned away.
John Suchet presents the morning show on Classic FM ( classicfm.com).
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