Ten years of Independent travel

Here, there, everywhere: a decade of travellers' tales
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The Independent Travel
The idea of Australia as a package holiday destination may seem positively eccentric. London to Sydney is a flight of around 24 hours: if you take off from London at 6pm on Thursday evening, you arrive at Sydney (11 hours ahead of GMT) at around 6am on Saturday morning. Friday is no more than a passing blur of daylight glimpsed somewhere over the Middle East.

Twenty-four hours in an aeroplane is a very, very long time - particularly if you're flying steerage in economy class. The journey becomes a series of unwatchable films followed by a succession of inedible meals.

Frank Barrett, December 1986

At the quayside restaurant in Ostend last week, the proprietor dried her hands on her apron and frowned: "After Zeebrugge, the British don't want to come to Belgium - it is very sad". The capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise was not Belgium's fault, but its tourist industry is suffering.

Others blame the continuing repercussions of the Heysel stadium riot two years ago for the downturn in British visitors. An old man in a bar repeated rumours of English cars left in the streets of Brussels being attacked. "That's absurd," said another customer. "In Belgium we love the British."

Jeremy Round, October 1987

Life in Manhattan is like mainlining on pure energy, and the British are getting hooked as cheap flights shuttle ever more furiously across the Atlantic and the exchange rate puts the cost of living within the budget of those without expense accounts. The city is now the top long- haul destination from the UK. But beware: you may find yourself blasted out of the torpor of a sluggish winter yet in need of a rest when you return.

Hilly Janes, March 1988

Stepping out of the aircraft I was struck by the crisp mountain air and the brilliant blue sky. On the tarmac stood a line of troop-carrying helicopters, their five rotor blades giving them the appearance of giant khaki grasshoppers. The Mongolian soldiers on sentry duty wore inscrutable looks on their faces and gold "soyombos" on their epaulettes. The feeling was that I had landed in a country that only Tintin and his faithful hound Snowy could visit, a sort of people's republic of Shangri La. In reality I had arrived in Mongolia.

Nick Middleton, May 1989

Ballycastle is a handsome town, overlooked by the solitary mountain of Knocklayd - large, gently curved and symmetrical. A solid mid-18th- century church and an inviting inn, where I am to stay, dominate its centre. I watch a group of boys playing hurling with sticks on the roadway while I eat a chunky chocolate ice cream bar and slake my thirst with three cans of Coke. The pleasure of walking is its simplicity: you just eat, drink, sleep and walk.

John Birt, November 1990

The ruins of Beirut were among the most spectacular on our route. A luxury office building where I had worked in 1987 was now a gutted ruin. Peaceful Christian quarters, untouched by fighting a few years ago, were now wind-worn with bullets and shellfire. On the Damascus highway, one hopeful had named his stall - amid the ruins of one mountain village - the Peace Cafe. But Lebanese soldiers on main intersections marshalled traffic with loaded rocket-propelled grenade launchers on their shoulders.

Hugh Pope, November 1991

At night, Blackpool comes up suddenly at the end of the motorway like Las Vegas on the desert. It shimmers on the Lancashire coast the way West Berlin used to if you looked at it from the other side of the Wall, a tantalising come-on, a glittering commercial for ... excess. There's something potent in the promiscuous use of electricity, especially in these tight- assed days of conservation.

Reggie Nadelson, October 1992

Whitby is a place for weirdos. Always has been, always will be. Fishing weirdos, folk singing weirdos, weirdo weirdos - you name them. Bram Stoker holed up in a B&B here a century ago and penned his best known tale, in which two visiting lovelies, Lucy and Mina, reel around town feeling oddly queasy and having funny turns on the cliff tops. The normal Whitby explanation for this sort of behaviour - a surfeit of Tetley's and a crab sandwich that was a touch green at the edges - didn't stick, and so, thanks to Dracula, the place went up several rungs in the weirdo destination stakes, permanently, almost internationally.

This is a town where you can buy some of the best kippers in the world, smoked in front of your eyes ; where salmon sneak their silvery way up the Esk to spawn in the wild hills of the North Yorkshire Moors; where the raw fresh air of the ragged, savage coastline can whip you up into a delirious chill stupor at the drop of a hat, even in midsummer.

David Hewson, September 1993

Sometimes the Cuban spirit seems to be a human manifestation of the word "passion", with desire only marginally muted by malnutrition. You witness the passion with which salsa, an undiluted celebration of African roots, is performed even for unappreciative tourists; the emotion with which schoolchildren express their willingness to "die in a hail of bullets like Che", if forced to choose between socialism or death; and the depth of devotion to the Caribbean's most dramatic island.

The Cordillera Guaniguanico, a mountain spine that arcs along to the western tip of Cuba, is even harder to drive around than it is to pronounce. Each successive twist and turn of the track through the hills reveals a more striking image of tobacco fields, sumptuously green against the red earth and framed by towering limestone outcrops that make the horizon look like a row of particularly unsound teeth.

Simon Calder, October 1994

Sandwiched between two austerely Islamic regions, the five Batak tribes of north-west Sumatra are for the most part Christian, and very jolly with it, Christianity being a topping to ancient, animist beliefs. Unlike many other parts of Indonesia, you will find pork on the menu here, with the live ingredients engagingly rootling around villages. And the Bataks have no hang-ups about the uncleanliness of dogs; there are plenty of fluffy puppies gambolling around - which they also eat. Horses, too; in fact, anything going. They also used to eat each other, but stopped at the behest of missionaries in about the middle of the last century.

Harriet O'Brien, June 1995

This was the story for which Harriet O'Brien was awarded the Travelex prize as Travel Writer of the Year.

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