My Life In Travel: Tony Parsons, writer
The My Life in Travel column is produced in association with Andalucia Tourism. See www.andalucia.org
Saturday 02 October 2010
First holiday memory?
The mountains of Norway. One of my mum's brothers, my Uncle Alf, stayed on in Norway after kicking out the Nazis, married my Auntie Bjorg, and became a Norwegian citizen. So I spent summers with my Norwegian cousins, shooting air rifles, sunbathing on the roofs of barns, swimming in the freezing fjords and fishing for trout and perch and learning how to gut and cook them. We stayed in a little log cabin that was higher than the clouds.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
The Scottish Highlands. There is no rough beauty like it anywhere.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That travel is never wasted. It is one of the best things about being alive and the best thing to spend your money on. Many of my happiest memories are from moments of travel.
Ideal travelling companion?
David Morrison of Hong Kong. Dave has been a lawyer in Hong Kong for half his life – he is 50 now – and since his twenties, we have been exploring Asia on a regular basis. Dave is a hard, stoic, big-hearted Aberdeen lad. He treats moments of extreme danger as light entertainment. He doesn't even snore.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I like it all. It's difficult to knock the west coast of Barbados; the Picasso museum in Paris is one of my favourite places; but the beach and the museums lose their shine before the exciting stuff does. One of my happiest travel memories is being caught in an attempted coup in Manila. I had never heard guns fired in anger before. And there is something about a city under curfew that gets your blood pumping.
Greatest travel luxury?
I never skimp on air travel. I have served my time in economy.
I take a pile of books that I read as a child: Peter Pan, Treasure Island, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Kidnapped and Great Expectations. They are always shockingly good the second time around.
Where has seduced you?
Twenty years ago, I fell in love with Hong Kong before my taxi reached the late, lamented Hong Kong Hilton. And I fell in love with Japan when I saw the wild deer that walk through the streets of Nara. But the place that caught me off guard, and where I long to return, is Bali. The island, the smiles – everything was beautiful in Bali.
Better to travel or arrive?
I like the anticipation of travel. Just going – that feels great, like being Jack Kerouac at 35,000 feet. The sensation of movement that you get as the world and the time unfurls beneath you. I love the clouds and watching the sun go down as you zip across the planet. Arriving is good, too.
Worst travel experience?
When I was 20, I took a few months seeing Europe and on the last leg of the journey, I ate a bad peach in Barcelona and had very bad food poisoning on the train journey to Paris. That was horrible. When I got to Paris, I crawled into a cheap little hotel room and stayed there for a week.
The Bahamas. I thought it would be like James Bond's Caribbean – exotic and yet somehow familiar, with echoes of the British presence. But that is Barbados and Antigua. The Bahamas was full of fat tourists in shorts, stuffing their faces in the local Starbucks and not realising that they are actually in someone else's country. A horrible place.
A five-star resort hotel in the Bahamas. We arrived with our exhausted little daughter and the room was not ready for hours. It was a terrible, overpriced dump. I have stayed at YMCAs where the service was better.
I love the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. There's a real tradition and history about the place, as well as being a practical, central, well-run hotel.
I enjoyed crawling through the tunnels at Cu Chi in Vietnam. They were where Vietnamese freedom fighters hid when the Americans were flattening the landscape. You go down one level and there are sleeping quarters and operating theatres. Then you go down another level and the lights start to go and you have to bend double. And then on the final, lowest levels you are in pitch blackness, crawling through twisting little tunnels, and the only sound you can hear is the beating of your heart and the screaming of large Scandinavian tourists. And when they drag you out, sweating and filthy, you can relax by firing M16s and AK-47s. It is a real fun day out.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Get on the local time.
Down the Yangtze river: The Chang Jiang, as the Chinese call it – the "Long River".
Tokyo. I love the way the future and the past seem to blur in those misty Blade Runner nights, and the way that on a clear day you can see Mount Fuji shining like a mountain in a dream. And the level of civilisation – the way women and children can walk anywhere at any time in total safety.
Phuket in Thailand. My next book is set there. It is about the healing power of sunshine.
'Tony Parsons on Life, Death and Breakfast' is published by HarperCollins; £18.99
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