Travel 2009: Adventurous travellers recall the year's highlights and low points
From the Hawaiian surf and Alaskan brown bears to drizzle in Djibouti and the 148 bus across London...
Saturday 26 December 2009
Best of 2009: My best journey was Hawaii, because of Ty, who towed me out on my surf board so I could learn to surf. There was no effort; I could have filed my nails. Then he pushed me forward and screamed at me to stand up, and you do because it's the only place in the world where the wave rolls you right in. And you think you look incredibly cool because all these guys are yelping who are young and blond. But then they show you a video and you look like a constipated dog.
Worst of 2009: It was in Santa Fe. I'd said to my kids: It's really hot there, because it's a desert. But when we got to New Mexico, it was the blizzard you get in the Bing Crosby White Christmas film: there were 24 inches inches of snow and we only had summer wear. And the town is so kitsched-out that you can only buy clothes if you are Pocahontas, so you either are wearing something for your squaw, or bows and arrows. We had to go to the equivalent of Asda and buy 50 T-shirts each and walk around like gigantic obese people.
Ruby Wax is a writer and comedian
Best of 2009: I'm a complete devotee of [travel publisher] Alastair Sawday. Whenever I'm going somewhere in the UK I go straight to the website and find dog-friendly places to stay – and they are always lovely. In April we decided to explore Pembrokeshire and had four days on the coast, and then four days in Snowdonia National Park. It was completely fantastic – the weather was British, but that doesn't matter because you are surrounded by the best outdoor shops: some people like buying Gucci, I like buying Gore-Tex.
Worst of 2009: Diving in Djibouti. We went in January, hoping for lovely warm weather. We arrived and my husband unwisely put his true profession – television producer – on his immigration card, so we got held at the airport for a couple of hours while they wondered whether we were going to take over the government. Then we realised that although we'd been told Djibouti was always bright sunshine, it was in actually rather drizzly and cold. It basically poured with rain for the whole week. All the people from Djibouti were standing around saying: we don't know what's happening!
Kate Humble is a television presenter and writer
Best of 2009: Best is difficult, but close encounters with brown bears (the big grizzlies) on Kodiak Island in Alaska narrowly takes second place to bike riding in Africa. I joined the four-month Tour d'Afrique for two weeks through Tanzania and Malawi and enjoyed every mile. The downhill rush across the border to Lake Malawi, chatting with local riders hauling huge loads on their Chinese single-speeders, village tea and chappati stops and, best of all, the ecstatic reception from children in villages we rolled through.
Worst of 2009: Worst is easy. I was in Laos for a television programme, revisiting the journey that I had made through the region back in 1974, just as the doors clanged shut on the whole Indo-China region for the next 15 years. Day one at the Sainyabuli elephant festival I'm jumping on and off a patient pachyderm (they're hard to steer although waving bananas in front of them does the carrot thing) and on day two I'm in hospital having my back X-rayed. Nothing to do with elephant-riding, I did something to it innocuously bending over to fill my water bottle in the hotel.
Tony Wheeler is co-founder of Lonely Planet
Best of 2009: I got to do something I'd never done before on a plane. I got to take off my clothes and... have a shower. The Emirates first-class shower on the A380 "Superjumbo": it's an extraordinary experience. I was worried that you are limited to five minutes of water , but actually it's more than enough. I even managed to wash my hair twice. The shower is not some small caravan-type thing: it does not remind you of wet weekends in Rhyl. There does come a point when you're standing there having just removed your last garment and you realise that you are standing without clothes on an aircraft, and at any moment you might hear "Bong! Please return to your seat!"
Worst of 2009: The realisation that low-cost carriers were now going to become part of one's travelling working life. It's one thing to get a £2 Ryanair flight for a holiday, but when you're on business and the only option is a low-cost carrier, and you're being treated like cattle, there's no assigned seating and it's a scrum to get on the aircraft... then you suddenly think, hang on this is my working life. The easyJets, Ryanairs and Wizz Airs are now the backbone of intra-European air travel. It's like a bus: no reclining seats and 180 people on an A320. It's just one long line of seats.
Richard Quest is a CNN presenter
Best of 2009: One of my favourite places that I have stayed this year – and it sounds really fancy – is the Bristol in Paris. I know what you're thinking: she's gone mad, because it's full of small ladies holding dogs, but that's not the case. What's amazing about it that you just get on the train and you're there. I throw a pair of socks in a bag, put the kids on the shoulders, and all of a sudden I'm in the middle of Paris, Eurostar permitting. The hotel looks so beautiful, so stunning and chic, yet it is freakishly down to earth. The concierge boys have really good ideas – they sent us to the aquarium and told us to try the coffee ice-cream in a local café first. Also, you think it's also going to cost a gazillion pounds to stay there, but it doesn't: there are great deals to be had.
Worst of 2009: I've never known cold quite like Budapest in January. In December it's joyful. If Disney created Hungaryland it would be like this: amazing little cake shops, bustle, twinkly lights. But once Christmas is over, they hide away their chocolate torte, and the adorable little groups of singing children. Instead you're just left with sludge and cold and a grumpy people and big bowls of soup that seem to be full of gristle.
Claudia Winkleman is a television presenter and writer
Best of 2009: My frankly eccentric and scientifically questionable carbon-offset scheme is to hitch-hike at least once for every flight I take. In March I took the train to Fort William in north-west Scotland and hitched to Mallaig for the boat to the miraculous Knoydart Peninsula@a strange, isolated wilderness which bears some signs of humanity on the fringes (a description that also applies to Crawley). The man who picked me up had just returned from scattering his father's ashes.
Anyway, on the return journey I was flying from Glasgow. Having previously taken the West Highland Line across the weary magnificence of Rannoch Moor to Scotland's largest city, I decided to race the train instead and started hitching from the roundabout next to Mallaig station. The first lift took me through the glens to Crianlarich; and I can confirm that seeing the mountains from the passenger seat of a chauffeur-driven car is even better than the train. The driver was a fascinating man, an academic who had once cycled right across America (the wrong way, given the prevailing winds, he confessed) and chain-smoked roll-ups. Crianlarich wasn't exactly pulsing with traffic, but eventually I got a lift with Howard, a photographer from Staffordshire, who offered a verbal masterclass on taking good pictures as he drove. He was going past the airport on the M8, and diverted to drop me off – two hours before the train would have got me there. One unexpected consequence of this year's slump in aviation is that flights have become more punctual (this week excepted), with far fewer slot delays: BA has achieved its best-ever punctuality, and easyJet is improving: that flight back from Glasgow left 20 minutes early (and had to stop short of the runway to give the cabin crew time to complete the safety demonstration).
Worst of 2009: It's been almost all joyful, though in May when I was hitching through the Musandam Peninsula trying to reach the boat for Telegraph Island, the Omani gentleman who kindly gave me a ride dropped me off at the Post Office, which was further away from the jetty than when I had started; I later realised he thought I was trying to send a telegraph.
Simon Calder is senior travel editor at The Independent
Best of 2009: Seeing the Northern Lights in Sweden. I went out pessimistic because it hadn't been a good season for them. I flew into Kiruna and was told that the weather was too warm and too cloudy. That night I got on a chairlift up a mountain at a place called Abisko, which is one of the best places to see the lights. As I ascended, it got colder and colder, and the clouds blew away. I popped into a café to have some hot chocolate and a chap came running in and said, "They're here! They're here!" The whole sky – 360 degrees – was full of the Aurora Borealis. There were people with tears in their eyes, it was so amazing. They say it was the best sighting of the season.
Worst of 2009: Yesterday, when I locked myself out of the house as I left to go to London.
Lyn Hughes is publisher of Wanderlust magazine
Best of 2009: Our last journey in America [before relocating to the UK]. We went to the West Coast and drove along Highway One from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I love Los Angeles. It’s difficult to look cool in a powderblue Bentley but people manage it there. And the drive is just stunning. We stopped at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, which is only a couple of hours outside LA, in this amazing lunar desertscape with stunning light. The Reagan Library is over the top in many respects – for instance his Airforce One (a Boeing 707) is there in its entirety in its own pavilion – but, unusually for American public spaces, it’s a beautiful building. It has a kind of aura about it of the aspect of America that he celebrated. Then we drove on, stopping a couple of times on the way. The thing that’s striking about it is the emptiness. We were there in the summer – and it’s not as if it’s a secret road – yet you can drive along by the ocean, and see a beach and just stop and walk out onto it and there’s no one else there. It’s really beautiful and uncrowded in a way that America manages to be, especially in the West. We arrived eventually in San Francisco, which was in some respects rather good preparation for our future life in Camberwell, south London. San Francisco has that European thing where the good bits and the not so good bits are all mixed up, which is not an American way of approaching cities. Pity about the weather – I would have built it somewhere else, myself.
Worst of 2009: The journey I do after I finished the Today programme, when I get on the 148 bus from the BBC in White City to Camberwell. You have the opposite view that you have of Highway One. Whatever time of day you do it, and however much effort the driver makes to nip in and out of the traffic and however many bus lanes are built, it always takes forever because we are such a crowded place. There are uplifting aspects to it – you go past the House of Commons – but on rainy day as you go down the Walworth Road, past the deserted former headquarters of the Labour Party and the one-pound stores, you do think there really are better places in theworld to be. I’m grateful to the 148 for taking me home, and I’m glad it’s a relatively uncrowded bus so that I can sit on the top reading, but it is the opposite of uplifting.
Justin Webb presents the Today programme on BBC Radio 4
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