Bugger of a year, I think we’ll all agree. This is the first time since 1986 that I have not left the country – the UK in my case – which gives me pause for thought and a huge dose of travel wistfulness.
In 2007 Lisa Wright left a promising career as a UK ecologist catching protected reptiles and amphibians, and kissing frogs, to move to beautiful green Galicia in northwestern Spain. Her new memoir Plum, Courgette & Green Bean Tart is an engaging mix of anecdotes, letters, recipes and stories from the stunningly beautiful area she now calls home.
It’s hot in a face-searing, bone-sapping, migraine-inducing way that they definitely don’t warn you about before they open the plane door – “Welcome to Berlin where the local temperature is WHAAAAAT the…”.
The boat chugs out of Virpazar harbour along a reed-fringed channel backed by stands of willow. Dense thickets line each side, blocking any view. The water is dark, cloudy, murky. Lake Skadar, we’re told, is the largest lake in the Balkans, but as yet there is no actual lake to see.
Stick a geologist in front of the Giant’s Causeway and this is what they’ll say. Sixty million years ago, give or take a week or two, molten lava erupted through the chalk beds of the Irish Channel and formed a huge, bubbling lava field, hundreds of thousands of square kilometres in size.
The leaflet promises ‘Authentic Slovakia’ and while I regard the word ‘authentic’ as suspiciously as the next travel writer, I’m assured by the tourist office assistant that this is the real deal.
It’s all in the intonation.
“May God help you!” – the rising word ‘God’ stretched out across several syllables and the ‘help you’ a dismissive, downbeat ‘help ya’, as the officer waved us through.
What were you doing forty years ago this summer? (I will accept the answer ‘not being born yet grandad’).
I was born in Ghana in West Africa but I come, if anywhere, from Huddersfield, an old mill town set amid brooding Pennine hills in West Yorkshire.
Let’s say you were going to write some new travel books, and design and launch a new travel publishing website to promote them. Would you A) take the current temperature of the world in turmoil and decide not to do any of that or B) . . .?
I’ve gone with B.
Montenegro only has two train lines – to be fair, it’s a small and wildly mountainous country – which makes it all the more remarkable that one of them turns out to be a candidate for Europe’s most thrilling train ride.
The cruise ships are pretty much the first thing you notice about the tightly packed medieval town of Kotor. And they are both blessing and curse.
I had dinner with Lisa Stansfield once, as it turns out, in London. I saw Oasis play in Adelaide, and Blur in Washington DC. In Las Vegas I once had a front-row table for Engelbert Humperdinck, and THAT is a story my friends, I can tell you.
Like the departing dolphins in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, I’m leaving the planet that has sustained me for decades, with some regret and with great gratitude.
Titanic. It’s a famous story, but the bare facts lose their power over time. The last survivors – babies on the voyage – succumbed to old age and not an icy sea, and the Titanic story has largely become one of myth and legend. Fiction intrudes upon memory, so that Leonardo and Kate speak to us – “I’ll never let go, Jack” – in a way the actual passengers never could.
For decades, visitors – who wouldn’t dream of stripping off to cool down in the chilled waters of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, or lie on the High Altar of St Paul’s Cathedral for a better camera angle – thought little of desecrating an ancient site in the heart of the Australian desert.
The Montenegrin Pompeii, some call it – crumbling houses facing streets that go nowhere; sketchy foundations that refuse to give up their mystery; wild flowers spreading through heaped stones; and empty windows framing isolated walls and distant views.
“You can’t possibly get lost” says the lady in the national park office.
“Did you know there are snakes in Montenegro?” says Elaine.
I am comforted by neither of these statements.
NEW VIDEO! To see Europe’s greatest train ride in under 4 minutes, check out my new video – filmed on the Bernina Express on 30 July 2019. The greatest train ride in Europe starts under the cavernous vaults of Zürich’s main railway station, where the 7.07am to Chur is about to depart. Grab a breakfastContinue reading “The Bernina Express – Europe’s greatest train ride”
Stazione Centrale, Milan – 1,558 miles, and the end of the trip Day 8 of my big summer train trip around Europe finishes in Milan, after a thrilling ride on the Bernina Express train from Zürich that travels right across the roof of the Alps. All I can say is – wow, what a finish!Continue reading “Over & out – Milan, via the Bernina Pass”
Sargans Bahnhof – 1,374 miles into the trip Day 7 of my big European summer train trip means I spent Night 6 on the train. On the face of it, taking the night train from Zagreb to Zürich seems both like an incredibly odd yet romantically adventurous thing to do – pick two random EuropeanContinue reading “In & out – Liechtenstein & Zürich”
Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor – 840 miles into the trip Day 6 of my round-Europe train trip – 9 countries in total, from Germany to Switzerland via a very roundabout route – puts me in Zagreb, capital of Croatia. It’s a lazy two-and-a-half hour trundle along the river from Ljubljana, but I saw precious little ofContinue reading “In & out – Zagreb”
Ljubljana – 754 miles into the trip Day 5 of the summer train trip = Slovenia, which is a new country for me, which means my ‘been’ app has jumped me up to 57% of Europe visited, though obviously I am still smarting over the break-up of Yugoslavia which has basically required me to visitContinue reading “In & out – Ljubljana”
Bratislava-Petrzalka – 520 miles into the trip Day 4 – and, frankly, it’s too hot to blog – too hot to breathe – let alone travel to Bratislava, but needs must when you have promised to cover every station en route from Berlin to Milan. And this blog won’t write itself, so here goes. MindContinue reading “In & out – Bratislava”
Praha Hvalni Nadrazi – 217 miles into the trip Day 2 of my round-Europe summer train trip and it’s Prague, capital of the Czech Republic – half of what used to be Czechoslovakia if you’re reading this in black and white and smoking Soviet-era roll-ups, also Stag Party capital of Europe and purveyor of devilishlyContinue reading “In & out – Prague”
Berlin Hauptbahnhof – 0 miles into the trip Day 1 of In & Out Europe – my Big Summer Train Trip around 9 countries in 9 days – finds me in Berlin and I cannot tell a lie. Believe me, I’d like to. I could distract and dissemble; I could embellish and embroider; I couldContinue reading “In & out – Berlin”
And I’m off – it’s the big summer train trip around Europe and I’m asking you to join me. Could be a lot of fun,
The Man in Seat 61 makes it easy to arrange train trips, and shows you how it’s done, step by step, but what he really does is package dreams. Here’s the world, he says. You don’t have to fly. Take the train. It’s romantic.
Taken at face value – 10 miles long, not very wide, not very deep – and England’s largest lake, Windermere, doesn’t seem too impressive. But it’s the biggest we’ve got, and it’s extremely beautiful, set within the stunning Lake District National Park.
There are few visitors in the early days of June, as summer has yet to settle fully upon the valleys. Mornings are misty, and the jagged peaks wear cloud crowns.
On Friday 24 May, a record number of flights took to the skies over the UK – more than 9,000 planes in the air in 24 hours (the same day, incidentally, that schoolchildren around the world staged their latest climate strike). That won’t be the last record broken. But it might be the one that forces you to have a serious conversation with yourself as a traveller or, like me, a travel writer.
Time has passed and the expensive counselling has obviously helped. But, says the therapist – usually with a weary sigh – I am never again to take hiking advice from a man wearing khaki gaiters.
It’s easy – in this age of TripAdvisor, smartphones and hotel comparison sites – to forget that booking a hotel room in a foreign land used to be a hazardous business.
You want to know where to get the best piri piri chicken in Portugal. Note, it’s not a question. It’s a gift, from me to you – one of the best budget lunches you’ll ever have, with a story of travel and adventure thrown in for good measure.
Boston – birthplace of the American Revolution and where it’s basically All Your Fault if you’re British.
51, 10 and 55. Remember those three numbers, because I’m about to tell you the truth about travel writing and book sales.
“Hold this” says our guide. “You don’t have to do anything else. The dogs will just run. They follow the ones in front”. Come on, I’ve seen the movies. This doesn’t sound right. “So there’s nothing else I have to do? Don’t I shout – well, you know, ‘mush’ or something?” “If you want”. AudibleContinue reading “No one says ‘mush’ – and other things they don’t tell you about husky sledding”
I go by the name of Jules and, before that – named for the day of the week on which I was born in Ghana – Yaw. But most fundamentally of all I am Julian, the name chosen for me by my mother who took a trip to Rome when pregnant and, in turn, was mightily taken with the name Julius.
Vienna is more than a flawless boys’ choir and a regimented parade of Lippizaner horses. Vienna has a surprisingly laidback soul.
Shouts of grandeur and Dickensian whispers echo through Hull’s Old Town, and if you turn your filter to ‘Noir’ you get a teasing glimpse of how high-flying ‘Ull once twitched its petticoats – out on the edge, stuck to the mud, but proud as ‘ell.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? All you want on your travels is a decent restaurant, where the food’s good, authentic and inexpensive – the kind of place the locals would eat. However, it’s not always so straightforward, and I should know – I’ve spent many years seeking out the best places to eat for my readers,Continue reading “6 rules for finding a great local restaurant”
Can you really see a capital city in a day? Usually I’d say no, but I suppose in the end it depends on the city. And when the city in question is the small capital of a small nation, suddenly the idea doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
Up early. Coffee on the terrace with a view of the Picos de Europa mountains. Piercing blue summer skies, the barest wisp of cloud, and a sun that is already warm on the skin. Perfect summer walking weather in northern Spain. You’d think.
Let’s not worry too much about why I was in Ibiza. Not really my kind of place I’d always thought, until it turned into exactly my kind of place by virtue of the bargain airfare and the promise of some winter sun. Still not really my kind of place I thought as we exited the airport past posters for clubs featuring DJs called things like XXXMixx and not Disco Dave.
Not much moves on a scorching hot summer’s day in downtown Tupelo, Mississippi. Even the tarmac melts, and when there’s a breath of wind it’s like an oven door opening. Which rather makes you wonder where Elvis Presley – whose hometown this was – got the energy to curl his lip, let alone wiggle a hip.
We all know what they mean – just take a look at their Twitter feeds, these travellers, nomads, backpackers, wanderlusters, roamers and adventurers. You’re a tourist. They’re a traveller.
If you had to pick a word to describe the kind of traveller you are, what would it be? Spontaneous, nervous, restless, organised, solitary, inquisitive, confident, relaxed, outgoing, interested, adventurous, accident-prone – or none of these? (If it’s accident-prone – tell me it’s not accident-prone – may I suggest adequate travel insurance.)
This is where you get to take a peek at the first chapter of my new book, Takoradi to the stars (via Huddersfield) – I’m hoping it grabs you and sends you scurrying to Amazon right away, but even if you’re just dropping by for a moment or two, I send you warm wishes from Takoradi and Huddersfield, wherever you are!
Christmas – a time for family festivities and home comforts. Or, if you’re a travel writer – make that a not very well organised travel writer – a time for ending up somewhere a bit odd, that you hadn’t quite planned.
There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who love the ‘Outlander’ TV series and books. And – no, hang on. Surely there’s only one kind of people in this world?