My Life In Travel: Martin Bell

'I was put into the prison's VIP lounge and then deported'
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The Independent Travel

First holiday memory?

A beach near Ilfracombe, in Devon, that I visited when I was about 10 years old. It was the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel and I decided that I wanted to live in a hotel for the rest of my days.



Best holiday?

I used to go to Nevis a good deal when I was based in Washington. I found it a magical place.



Favourite place in the British Isles?

My own Suffolk – Lavenham. There is a wonderful church and a lovely hotel; it's a beautiful place. I also used to cycle every day to Gordon Brown's current holiday home in Southwold, too!



What have you learnt from your travels?

The one maxim I've learnt is – wherever you go, on business or pleasure, take half the clothes and twice the money that you think you're going to need.



Ideal travelling companion?

Somebody who is curious, intelligent, relaxed, not too bothered by delayed planes and airport security, and who has an overriding sense of humour.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I'm a complete beach person. I take a heavy non-fiction book and a light fiction book and alternate between the two.



Greatest travel luxury?

A Maglite torch. If the electricity goes, as it often does in the kind of places I go to, you can unscrew the top and turn it on its base and you've got a candle. It's the ultimate warzone flashlight.



Holiday reading?

I read a lot of military history; I'm interested in the real world. For fiction, I take the novelists who are closest to the real world: people such as John McCary. His books are actually disguised non-fiction.



Where has seduced you?

The island of St Helena in the South Atlantic, for its geography and history. It's very hard to get to – you have to arrive on the RMS St Helena cargo ship. It's wild but fertile because it has a subtropical climate, and the people are wonderful.



Better to travel or to arrive?

I enjoy travelling less and less. I have to confess, I'm doing a certain amount of lecturing on cruise ships at the moment, which is a very easy way to do it.



Worst travel experience?

Arriving in Kano, in northern Nigeria, and being immediately arrested. I was put into jail (to be fair, the prison's VIP lounge) and then deported.



Worst holiday?

When I was the Washington correspondent for the BBC, I decided to mix business with pleasure and went to a theme park in Cincinnati where they have the world's tallest wooden roller-coaster. It's called Kings Island. I was terrified, but my kids had a great time.



Worst hotel?

My worst hotel is also my best – the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo. During the war it was shot away by tank and cannon fire so there was no electricity or water. However, it's also a wonderful place with wonderful people, and I'd recommend it to anybody. For a hotel built in 1984, it's got a lot of history.



Favourite walk/swim/ride/ drive?

One of the most fascinating walks I've done was on the island of St Kilda beyond the Outer Hebrides, above a village that was abandoned in the 1930s. There are about 16 people and two million seabirds there. As you can tell, I like getting off the beaten track.



Best meal abroad?

Last year I led a group of tourists to Bosnia and Croatia. While they were wandering around Zagreb, I lodged myself in a fantastic restaurant opposite the cathedral, where I had the best roast lamb I've ever eaten.



First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Unpack, then go out and buy a newspaper.



Dream trip?

Now I've been to St Kilda and St Helena, I have almost run out of curiosity.



Favourite city?

Chicago. It's lively, with a fantastic skyline.



Where next?

I'm lecturing on a P&O ship that's going up through the Norwegian fjords. After that, I'm going to Edinburgh for the book festival, then I'm supposed to be going to Afghanistan.



Martin Bell will be talking about New Labour's legacy, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, on 20 August at 6.30pm (www.edbookfest.co.uk)

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