My Life In Travel: Ken Livingstone
'I love to snorkel off the coast in Corfu'
Saturday 10 July 2010
Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, is a presenter on LBC Radio
First holiday memory?
Butlins in Skegness, where my parents had summer jobs as Redcoats in the late 1940s. It's a very small memory, but one that stands out is of a whole row of bushes in flower, covered in swarms of butterflies.
Hitch-hiking across Africa for five months when I was 21, although I don't think that really counts as a holiday. A holiday I've gone back to more often than any other is in California – to San Francisco and then down to Monterey and Carmel and over the Bay Bridge to an artists' colony called Sausalito. There's a little hotel I stay in called Mountain View which is right on the crest of a small mountain, so you can lie in your bath and look down on San Francisco Bay and, if you go to the other side of the hotel, you can see the Pacific and the great Redwood forests. I go back for the combination of amazing food, lovely weather, stunning views, and lots of good cinemas and art galleries.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
Hampstead Heath in north London. It's easy for me to get to, there's so much on it and you can be quite alone in parts of it – as long as you avoid the cruising areas!
What have you learnt from your travels?
Wherever you go in the world, even places where you can't communicate with the people, we are all remarkably similar.
Ideal travelling companion?
Whoever you're in love with at the time. Being on holiday with somebody you're in love with is absolutely amazing.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I am more of a beach bum; once I became Mayor of London, I saw holidays as a time to rest. Mind you, with two small kids I don't get much of that anyway.
Greatest travel luxury?
I try to travel as light as possible; I hate lugging lots of clothes away. As long as I've got something to read, I can be relaxed.
Where has seduced you?
I really liked the "Gulf of Poets" on the Italian Riviera, which I find bewitching and beautiful. I've gone there more than anywhere else, apart from San Francisco.
Better to travel or arrive?
To arrive. Hanging around airports is exciting the first few times when you're younger. But now I usually take work to do on the plane or a book to read.
Worst travel experience?
Getting dysentery when I was in the middle of the Sahara. I was hundreds of miles from the next village and I thought I was going to die. Fortunately for me, it was a couple of months before the French finally quit the Algerian desert and were winding down their nuclear-test programme, so I got driven to their nuclear base and they stuffed me full of drugs and saved my life.
That was the one in New York State and New Hampshire when I discovered that my wife and my mother didn't like each other; it was a mistake to take them both on holiday. We had been together for about seven years before I made this discovery.
A hotel in Brighton, which has since been demolished. I was there for a Labour Party conference and I remember that as you walked across the carpet, it stuck to your feet – it was disgusting.
These days, the quality of the service in medium-starred hotels in China is as good as five-star hotels in America or Europe; the chambermaids speak about four languages. The hotels there are incredibly good value.
I've been to Corfu quite a lot, and I love snorkelling just off the rocky coast looking for octopuses and fish. If I can do that in the Caribbean, that's an added bonus. Walking all the way up to Everest Base Camp was pretty amazing. I did that after Mrs Thatcher abolished the GLC and I had a year of unemployment; it took about three weeks to do but was a fantastic walk.
Best meal abroad?
For me, food is a big part of a holiday. I always look out for good places to eat. There's a really lovely restaurant in Corfu where Mandelson got into trouble on the Rothschild holiday. There's also a wonderful little diner in English Bay in Vancouver.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Unpack. Particularly if you've got kids it's just something you have to get out of the way.
I've done them all. I've been really lucky: I came of age just as travel became easy. My mum didn't go abroad until we started taking her. They always used to holiday in England or Scotland.
It's London. When I was Mayor, I tried to get the idea going that everybody in London should take one week of their holiday at home going to places they've never seen like St Paul's, Westminster Abbey, or the museums. There seems to be a 38-year gap between people going to those places as children then revisiting with their grandchildren.
Back to Corfu. When the kids get older, we'll go further afield, but two small kids on a 10-hour plane hour ride isn't really something you want to do.
Ken Livingstone is on LBC 97.3 FM in the London area every Saturday from 10am; also available online worldwide at lbc.co.uk
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