What’s your travel style? Are you itinerary and schedule driven, needing to have every step mapped out in advance or are you content to arrive without a plan and let happenstance be your guide?
I don’t travel much these days . Not because I wouldn’t like to, but because, since the last chick left the nest, I am the sole carer for the Baskerville Beasties. It’s a big ask for somebody to enter Baskerville Manor and feed the ravening horde of dogs, cats and fish, as well as maintain the in-house jungle, while I am off on an adventure.
However, when I did travel, it was for a number of reasons – holiday, work, competition. So my approach to the trip was dependent on the reason – holidays are holidays, so only the barest outline would be needed – as long as I made it in time to board the flight or the train or the boat, that was enough scheduling for me. The remainder of the holiday would be a loose series of targets – visit that landmark, eat at that restaurant etc. (or not, if something more interesting presented itself).
The only things that were de rigeur on my travels were visits to the shoe souk (yes, an entire Arabian souk devoted solely (sic) to shoes), and a branch of the Sana designer outlet store in Doha. My niece worked there for a number of years – on the outward journey my suitcase would be filled with contraband like pork sausages and rashers and Tayto – a well-known Dublin delicacy – on the way back it would be bulging with my wardrobe plans for the next five years.
A trip to the beach at Um Sa’id one day, where the Irish and Canadian contingent complained that there wasn’t a camel to be seen in this so-called Arab land, led our Qatari hosts to take us for an impromptu drive into the dunes at the edge of the Sahara (with a side trip for some Wadi-bashing) to meet a whole truck-load of camels, on their way home from the races.
Working trips were quite different – these varied from shepherding a band, roadies, equipment, and some random journalists to a gig in Paris where we found we had been given accommodation in a brothel just round the corner from the Moulin Rouge (on another occasion, conducting 22 Scottish bagpipers in full regalia to a nightclub in Leeson Street at 2:00 am on a New Year’s night in Dublin) to managing a meet and greet for senior hospital consultants in Hong Kong, which was tied into an Enterprise Ireland trade mission with the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister).
I planned my working trips like a military campaign. It was necessary. In Paris, when it came time for sound-check, I found myself knocking on the door of a peculiar establishment where ladies work by taking off their clothes, and trying to get the large doorman to understand my secondary school French pronunciation of “je veux que mon groupe dos”. (or words to that effect).
On the Hong-Kong trip, as flights from Hong-Kong to Dublin were limited at the time, I did manage to catch a whole free day to spend, (and spend and spend and spend) at Stanley Market, which resulted in another five-year wardrobe plan to add to my Arabian collection. To the great delight of my colleagues, something more interesting presented itself while I was waiting for my connection to Hong Kong at Schipol, which led to a fine romance with a lovely chap from Venice.
For a number of years I engaged in competitive fencing, and was lucky enough to join the national team for some Five-Nations Challenges, which rotated between the host countries, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. As part of the team, the overall organisation of travel and accommodation and time tabling was already taken care of, it was only necessary to get myself and my kit to whatever muster point in order to travel, get to the venue or compete. There was a kind of freedom from responsibility in that which I quite enjoyed.
I remember one year, when Wales was the host country, we travelled by sea and coach to the venue. On the way, we were held up in the Welsh hillsides because of a traffic accident, and spent a lot of time pottering about, getting friendly with a bunch of little lambs while we waited for the road to clear. We arrived just in time for the formal dinner. The main menu was a traditional Welsh dish – roast lamb. The Irish contingent were blamed for giving the kitchen staff a group nervous breakdown when, one after the other, all thirty-odd of us decided to take the vegetarian option.
At the other end of the scale, the members of our little fencing club travelled the length and breadth of Ireland to join the local competitions, as many of us as possible piling into one car with all our kit. One St Patrick’s weekend, me and four fellow members travelled to Cork in my old Citroen Pallas, affectionately known as “Sherman” because he was big and green and like a tank. On the way it snowed heavily, both outside and inside my car. Due to the virtual whiteout, I took a wrong turn and ended up taking a “dog-leg” route across Ireland to Limerick and then back across to Cork – we still managed to arrive on time. That’s me in the middle of the picture. NB – lots of fencers are tall – I’m 5’9” – so picture the situation in the freezing cold car with the five of us packed in along with our rather large fencing kit-bags, wiping the snow off each other.
The Schipol/Hong-Kong connection, as I mentioned above, developed into a nice little romance for a couple of years, which involved trips to Venice for me, and trips to Dublin for him. Luckily he had the same laissez-faire approach to travel as me, because a trip to Newgrange (about an hour’s drive from my home) turned into an epic 8-hour journey when I took a wrong turn off what was then a new, unfinished, motorway junction (I always find an excuse for losing my way….) The up side to this was that he saw a lot more of Ireland than he expected to (and I found places I never knew existed). And we made it to Newgrange – here’s a detail from the side of the great tomb there.
Apart from my deep devotion to the sport of shopping, one of things I really love to do in a new city is to just start wandering in one direction and see what there is to be seen. I had a wonderful time on a trip to Seville to learn Spanish – after class I explored every nook and cranny of the place –sometimes with my fellow students, sometimes alone. This way, we discovered a genuine flamenco bar rather than the tourist trap the school organised for us.
At the time, I was reading Dan Brown’s “Digital Fortress” which is set in that lovely town. I promise you, Mr Brown does not research his settings very well – don’t believe a word he writes. As I climbed the Giralda Tower I wondered what exactly he was drinking when he wrote that the Giralda “has stairs so steep that tourists have died here. This is not America, there are no warning signs, nor banisters, no advice about insurance policies. This is Spain. If you are stupid enough to fall, it’s your own fault, independently of who built the steps.” Conclusion: Dan Brown is a prat.
So what would you think all this says about my travel style? Be kind….please?
Welsh lambs © Meirion Mathias, found on Welsh Icons