My Life In Travel: Lyse Doucet, BBC presenter and correspondent

'I love the Nile, and was awed by Petra'

Click to follow
The Independent Travel

First holiday memory?

Driving from my home in New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada with my parents and siblings. We went to see the home of Anne of Green Gables, the fictional heroine in the novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery. It's a large white wooden farmhouse set in rolling orchards, with picnic tables on the lawns – it was a delight to explore.

Best holiday?

Ubud in Bali. I went after a demanding work assignment. I stayed in a small, traditional hotel, where everything was simple and serene: from the turquoise infinity pool and exquisite food, to the flowers and its kind people.

Another favourite was a trip to Sancerre in France with my sister. We spent two weeks in a quaint yellow cottage, attending a French language school.

We loved the winding cobbled streets and traditional Gallic architecture; the shops that sold regional goat's cheese and wine. It felt we'd gone back in time.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Galway in Ireland. I immediately took to it when I visited during a summer arts festival. It felt like home and reminded me of eastern Canada, where Irish and Scottish influences still remain from earlier waves of immigration.

I also have to say London. I never tire of exploring the streets and discovering new shops and galleries. It's a city of superb parks and splendid culture, with a history that never ceases to amaze and inspire.

What have you learnt from your travels?

To believe that good things can come out of bad situations. Sometimes a flight cancellation can lead to great experiences; a wrong turn can take you to new places. On a trip to Badakhshan in north-east Afghanistan, our BBC team coped with three flat tyres before our vehicle broke down. We were in a completely remote mountainous region where there are hardly any roads, let alone any electricity or running water.

We then had to flee from our camp in the early hours when a gas canister exploded. Then there was a minor earthquake. But the Afghan people were unstintingly optimistic, hospitable and resourceful.

Ideal travelling companion?

A close friend, with whom silence isn't uncomfortable and discoveries are a shared delight. For work, I like a friend who speaks the language, knows the culture and can get us out of tight spots.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I feel at home alongside any body of water, having grown up next to the Atlantic. But I also enjoy immersing myself in other cultures. One of my greatest pleasures, from the moment I became a traveller, is to wander through the streets, without a map or a plan, and drop in at local art galleries or grocery stores.

Greatest travel luxury?

I always pack soya milk, tea bags, coffee and a kettle in my suitcase – which has resulted in a few accidents.

Holiday reading?

Novels set in the place I'm visiting. I recently went to a wedding in Lahore, Pakistan, so I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. His book had been on my list for a while. On another trip to Kabul, I also re-read chapters from Nancy Hatch Dupree's An Historical Guide to Afghanistan, which I've taken on so many journeys, it's now falling apart.

Where has seduced you?

Luxor. I love being anywhere along the Nile and it was just extraordinary to see the ancient Egyptian temples rising from modern city streets. I was also awed by Petra in Jordan, when I walked through the ancient rose-red city cut from stone and saw its most iconic image, the Treasury Building, for the first time.

Better to travel or arrive?

I like the sensation of being suspended in a private space between the place you left behind and a destination that lies ahead. I remember travelling on a train from the Ivory Coast to Burkina Faso, on my first trip abroad, and the exhilaration of sitting next to the open door, letting my thoughts fly with the wind.

Worst travel experience?

Coming under aerial bombing in Afghanistan on a winter's night in 1990 while travelling with mujahedin fighters in a convoy of vehicles that then broke down. It was terrifying. We ended up walking for hours through the snow in the crisp night air under a stunning full moon. I learned a lot about how fighters manage to survive in these conditions.

Worst hotel?

A guest house in a convent in Damascus, Syria. The lovely nuns were doing commendable charity work but the ceiling fans weren't working in the blazing heat of summer.

Favourite walk?

Roaming barefoot along the beach where I grew up in eastern Canada. It always reminds me of the Bruce Springsteen lyric: "All the diamonds in this world/ that mean anything to me/ are conjured up by wind and sunlight/ sparking on the sea."

Best meal abroad?

Pepper crab at an open-air restaurant in Kuala Lumpur – it was simply mouth-watering. Also, grilled fish in a market in Multan, Pakistan, delicately spiced and cooked on a special grill. We ate with our hands in a small stall which looked out on the street.

Dream trip?

Cape Verde, an archipelago off the coast of West Africa. I was so taken by its uniqueness when I visited in the Eighties: the stark lunar landscape; the cities with pastel-coloured wooden houses; the parks with gazebos where bands play in summer; the delicious Portuguese-style cuisine.

Favourite city?

Kabul has come to feel like home, though I never stop admiring Cairo's architecture. Also, Quebec City. I like immersing myself in French culture and language if I get the chance.

Where next?

I'd love to go back to Iran. On my last visit, in 2009, we went to the lovely city of Isfahan. Its square is outstanding, surrounded by magnificent Islamic and Persian architecture.

Lyse Doucet speaks at the "Destinations: Holiday & Travel Show" at Earl's Court, 2-5 Feb: