Dating back eight years, I was given a book entitled ‘How To Be An Explorer Of The World’ as a leaving gift from my work colleagues, my wonderful time in Malaysia had come to its sad, pre-planned and inevitable end. As with a great many tomes on my bookshelf, there it sat gathering layers of dust, until today.
The book itself is actually quite cool, acting as it where like a field journal, proposing to the reader various ways to explore our green and pleasant lands, from collecting thirty different things on the school run to documenting the textures of various tree bark in far away places.
The reason why it was dusted down was primarily due to my recent camping and hiking trips, the experiences (in what is turning out to be a great UK summer) giving me the focus and drive to get out more and leave capitalism behind (until I need it again to top up the funds for more adventures…).
I often say to people that I’ve travelled all over the world (which is not technically true as I have only visited four out of the seven continents so far) and that of all the places I’ve been to, my favourite place in the world is North Wales, more specifically Snowdonia.
The unbridled vistas from the top of Snowdon rightly crowned it ‘Best UK View 2017’ and after my last trip up there under a cloudless sky with brothers, sons, daughter and nephews in tow, it is hard, in fact impossible, to dispute.
It’s not only the views that keep me going back for more, it’s the accessibility, the scenic variability and the serenity of the place that puts me at peace with the world (both inner and outer).
People genuinely seem quite surprised when I tell them and naturally ask which other places I have been to, so this post goes some way (if not all the way) to describe my most memorable memories of the twenty-eight countries I have visited so far.
Visiting all of the wonderful places on Earth allows the traveller to experience countries and cultures first-hand, and as my previous post on Robin Williams suggested, life is experience not knowledge and if you have a choice and the financial backing, then don’t obtain knowledge about a countries and cultures from reading a book, get out there and live it.
So, in alphabetical order:
(Butrint – A day trip from our child-free break to Corfu, my wife and I took the opportunity to go to Albania which was only a short and pleasant ferry ride away. Our final destination was Butrint, a majestic and vast ancient city, very picturesque under a scorching sun. Local food was nice, even though we saw a man gut a sheep hanging from a post, giblets flying in all directions…)
(Bruges – Contrary to Colin Farrell’s position in the film of the same name, life “In Bruges” is great, and the city is most certainly not a ‘fookin shithole’. An historic, picture postcard of a town with the best seafood dishes (mussels) I’ve ever tasted. One peculiar thing of note was the large amount of confectionery shops displaying an even larger amount of chocolate genitalia – both men and women…)
(Sunny Beach – Another min-break for the wife and I, we spent a week at and on the aptly named Sunny Beach, a well deserved R&R break from the rat race…)
(Siem Reap – One of the highest points of my three year tour of Asia was a completing half marathon around the famous Angkor Wat temple system. A friend and I hired a local guide who was truly amazing, our day consisting of a boat trip around Lake Ton Le Sap in the morning, followed by a walking tour of Angkor Wat in the afternoon, a great warm up for the race the next day. Glad to say I completed the race, inspired by the local Cambodian children and their generous high-fives. We almost got to see the rock band Placebo who were playing the temple that night in aid of human tracking awareness, but our powers of persuasion to the local security guards as “would-be rock journos” let us down…)
(Tenerife – Another min-break for the wife and I, we spent a week in Los Christianos with 40 partying Scousers, so it was like Liverpool, just with the sun…)
(Copenhagen – Clean and courteous, there are places which are enriched by the lovely people that reside there and Copenhagen is one of them. A business trip allowed me the good fortune of three weeks of great food and company, an awesome host who wined and dined a colleague and I most nights. The trip was made even better when the wife flew over for the weekend, a weekend which saw us take in several museums, sip wine on the canals of Nyhavn and taking our own hip flasks of Johnny Walker Club Edition into Tivoli Gardens (the template for Disneyland) as we watched the show from under an April blanket…)
(Hurghada – Our first family trip to the African continent was not a let down, great hotel just off the beach, taking camel rides across a desert landscape visiting a Bedouin village and rounding it all off with multiple boat trips to paradise (literally – Paradise Island) where we snorkeled for the first and second time, seeing such enchantment and vivid colours under the surface of the Red Sea…)
(Lisdoonvarna – You would think that a fishing club’s ideal destination would be Cavan in Eire, world famous bastion of angling. Not so. I spent many a summer as a teenage boy rod in hand with little to no chance of obtaining a prize hall of fish, instead our bi-annual dads and lads trip coincided with the annual Matchmaker Festival in Lisdoonvarna in County Clare. I’m quite certain a lot of the dads had more success in the bars and clubs of the town after the sun had gone down, using their own tackle as bait…)
(Liverpool – My home town. For all of the negativity it receives (at times) from the rest of the country, there is in my opinion no finer centre of connectivity, community, culture and cracking humour in England. Music and multiculturalism is the staple diet of all Scousers, with generous helpings of friendship for all who enter…)
(Antibes – The money I had saved from my eighteenth birthday was used for my first foreign holiday “sans parents”. The sun-drenched trip coincided with the 1990 World Cup, and a friend and I spent many an evening watching England progress through the rounds, notably the eleventh hour winner from David Platt against Belgium which ended up in both jubilation and septic carnage after my ecstatic man-hugs ripped off the sun blisters from his back…)
(Parga – A two week trip to this place held a special significance for me and opened my world up for future travel. This was (at twenty-four) my first plane journey and boy how nervous I was, digging my thankfully bitten nails into the arms of my girlfriend at the time. A beautiful little town on the Greek mainland, each day offering eternal sun, eternal gyros and eternal gallons of Retzina. A day trip on a boat down the River Styx on the way to a ruined city to the backdrop of Pink Floyd and Bob Marley the highlight of a great holiday, and one that gave me the drive to get on a plane again and again…)
(Budapest – Four weeks in Budapest on a work assignment allowed me to wander the streets of this picturesque city, taking in all of its glorious architecture and local cuisine. My hotel sat on the hillside at Buda, giving spectacular views across the river to Pest. The local food was one thing to remember, the Hungarian broths and stews sating the pallet of any omnivore. My last night saw me getting sweaty with the locals as Placebo (the band I had missed in Cambodia) played the Ferenc Puskas Stadium, a fine end to a great trip…)
(Bali – The family and I (including the soon to be princess who was safely ensconced in mum’s tum) spent five days in Kuta on the island of Bali. Out time there saw us taking a day trip to a volcano stopping off at several local arts shops on the way, taking to the waves for the first time proper at the Oakley Surf School and spending two whole days at Waterbom, currently rated as the second best water park in the world. My wife struggled with having the little one on-board and has plans in the near future to go back and experience it all over again, this time in comfort…)
(Luxembourg City – We must have spent a grand total of four hours in Luxembourg, most of that in a police station. Some of our more dubious members of our “angling club” decided in their infinite wisdom to buy some fake dollars from a dodgy American on the boat from Hull to Rotterdam, my father included. The plan was to nip over the border from Belgium where we were staying, cash the dollars in for a tidy profit and scarper back to Belgium all the more richer. Not so. The brave and not so clever lead took the hit for the entire team and suffered the consequences, as he entered the bank on his own with a pocket full of dollars and left handcuffed with two armed police officers. On seeing this, everyone split depositing their fake plastic dollars into the nearest bin. We waited for our comrade to leave the station on a charge, never to go back to Luxembourg again. Hardly the life of a member of Oceans Eleven…)
(Kuala Lumpur – “KL” will always have a special place in my heart. The family and I were fortunate to live like kings (and queens) in Malaysia’s capital for three years. Although it took me a while to adjust and although my piece never really fitted in well to the ex-pat jigsaw, once settled we explored most parts of this wonderful country, coast to coast, island to island. My two sons had the best education which gave them a foundation to go on and succeed which they have done, and our time there gave us the opportunity to finish off the family unit with the daughter we had longed for. It is difficult, in fact impossible to highlight the best bits, three whole years of living and breathing this cultural melting pot and using it as a base to travel to other parts of South East Asia puts this period of my life at the top of the list without the shadow of a doubt…)
(Amsterdam – The city outside of the UK that I have visited most, Amsterdam is one of those places on most peoples bucket lists, all probably for different reasons. As a member of the energy company most associated with the country, over a dozen trips to Amsterdam ensued over a period of four years, each time seeing and experiencing different things, the early days of the bars, coffee shops and sights of the red light district making way for the museums and art galleries, housing some of the worlds greatest paintings as I grew older and wiser…)
(Giants Causeway – There was a time when Northern Ireland was a no-go zone for members of the UK mainland, but thankfully those days are over (here’s hoping) which gave us the opportunity to take a trip to Belfast and beyond. The beautiful people of Northern Ireland made us feel so welcomed it put the homeland to shame, such warmth and interest in fellow man (and woman). After taking a wonderfully narrated and informative open-top bus through Belfast (including Falls and Shanklin Road areas) and an awesome Titanic exhibition centre, we took a trip north to the alien landscape of the Giant’s Causeway, the oddly shaped and arranged basalt octagons is a sight to behold, just keep hold of your hats, it gets real windy up there…)
(Batangas – Another work assignment saw me spending three weeks in Manila, capital of the Philippines. This is yet another example the people making the place, my hosts whilst there including me in Filipino life wherever possible. This also included the strangest thing I have ever tasted, the balut – a boiled duck egg/embryo topped with a salty broth, sounds disgusting but tasted quite nice. The highlight of the trip was my solo journey to Batangas on the coast, a boat ride from the mainland taking me to an island with an active volcano, the smell of sulphur at the top making me regret my choice of snack immensely. I recall getting funny looks as I “trail ran” down the side of the mountain as most folks took the donkeys, but it stood me in good stead for the 10km road race in Manila the next day where I finished an impressive twelfth in the sweltering heat. That said, it was a McDonalds fun run…)
(Krakow – Too many visits and work assignments to remember, all that I do know is that Krakow is one of my favourite cities on mainland Europe. The architecture is stunning, the vast array of cheap food and drink leaves no two days the same and the locals are so accommodating and friendly once you get to know the Polish way. I know the street map inside out and have also travelled further afield to some of the darker corners of the country which remind us all that there are always lessons to be learned from the past and love not fear is the only way…)
(Lagos – Portugal happened as one of our “gap years” from visiting the States, bi-annually as we do. Booked as a last minute holiday (with the summer outlook in the UK being rather bleak as is mostly the case), eleven days of being sand bums was arguably the best beach holiday we’ve ever holiday. From kayaking and Stand Up Paddleboarding through ancient grottoes to snorkeling directly off the beach and catching fresh mackerel on a boat trip and cooking / serving it up with a fresh salad within one and a half hours of leaving the jetty all under a baking sun, it’s easy to see why…)
(Ben Nevis – I have been to Scotland countless times, mostly in the Borders in a small town called Newton Stewart with the now famous “angling club without rods”, but the literal pinnacle of my Celtic experience was reaching the summit of Ben Nevis which was the last point of my National Three Peaks Challenge. Starting and the base of Snowdon twenty-two hours earlier and over the arduous and unseen Scaefell Pike, we rose high through the cloud layer to reveal a sight of the gods, the three cairns at the top representing what we had achieved over a single Earth day. Undeniably my most significant and proudest man vs nature moment to date…)
(Singapore City – As Singapore is only a four hour drive away from Kuala Lumpur, we spent a long weekend there as our first trip with the new born princess. Car stocked to the ceiling with wet wipes and nappies, we headed south to spend a few days in Singapore, a more sterile, clinical and cleaner version of KL. A city-scape boat trip, an adventure to the Singapore Zoo in tropical monsoon and a trip to Sentosa island was a nice way to spend a long weekend, but we were happy to return home, keen to chum gum once more…)
(Cape Town – There is still part of me in Cape Town (but I’ll not go into my bout of gastric flu in great detail here) and it is a place I completely fell for. Fortunate to spend three months in South Africa on business, I had a full itinerary of the things I wanted to do before I left and although I didn’t tick everything off my list, I was not disappointed. I have always tried my best to integrate myself with the places I travel to, especially with work and my trip here was made so much easier by truly epic and wonderful hosts. Nothing was inconvenient for them, offering as it were travel guidance, food advice, taking me and my colleagues out on day trips to name but a few things. I entered the country as a stranger and left with it with a group of friends I will always keep in touch with. One of the highlights (other than helping our football team to the final of the five-a-side cup – only to lose on penalties – typical English) was when the office manager pulled me aside one day and asked me if I ran at all, which after I confirmed that I did, told me to meet him at the base of Table Mountain at five a.m. the next day armed with trainers and a hydropack. I dutifully did and still look at the photo above in awe as we ascended the Platteklip trail to look back and see the city sleeping in mist below us. Once at the top, he told me he was a practicing zen Buddhist and often contemplated the oneness of the Universe from the top of Table Mountain, as I did on that day, feeling a true connection with everyone and everything…)
(Kanchanaburi – I have been fortunate enough to visit Thailand on many occasions, with family, football team and friends. There was one trip that sticks out though, when my friend from the UK visited us on the way through his six month tour of South East Asia and Australia. We spent two days in Bangkok and one day (which turned into two) on a trip to Kanchanaburi – the location where The Bridge Over The River Kwai actually took place. Our trip didn’t start off too well but ended up being a trip we always mention whenever we meet up. Our driver for the day got “lost” several times on the way, arriving at our destination too late, thus missing entrance to the Tiger Temple, trying to check into a hotel when it was a brothel, asking locals for directions the next day to the Tiger Temple by raising my clawed hands and growling as everything was in Thai and ending up on the right bus, our trip back to Bangkok resulting in being offered a threesome with a bride on her honeymoon and being attacked by a rabid dog (not the aforementioned bride). In all, one of the most memorable adventures of my forty-five year existence thus far…)
(Istanbul – I have been fortunate enough to visit Istanbul on business several times now and like Cape Town, Manila and Krakow, I left knowing I had friends for life. My Turkish friends are some of the most honest, friendly and spiritual people I know and once again their generosity in the past has been second to none. Probably for several reasons, my last trip will stay with me forever. Our host (known as “The Fixer”) was our friend and tour guide, chaperoning us to various locations in the city and beyond, a day trip to the Princes Islands I’ll never forget, dragon boat racing and multiple Turkish barbecues. As Turkey is going through somewhat of a transition period at the moment, relations with several sections of the population are strained. The day after our successful project go-live, we celebrated on the Friday overlooking the city with our new champion cocktail maker friend who served up Long Island Ice Teas whilst narrating the history of the city atop the hotel as the tanks and army took to the streets below us in what we believed to be a staged military coup by the president. Our party, whilst concerned, felt quite safe until the F14 Strike Eagles started to swarm the sky. As quickly as it arrived it had gone, “victory” to the president and by Sunday morning we were once again eating breakfast on the shore of the Bospheros. A tale to tell the grandchildren down the ages, but one thing is for sure, Istanbul is one of the most culturally exciting and vibrant places on the planet…)
(Grand Canyon – Our love affair (the wife and I) with the United States came when we booked our honeymoon in Vegas. Everything in America is turned up to eleven, and Vegas takes it up a notch to twelve. We ended up buying a part of the U.S as we liked it so much and return to the land of Uncle Sam every twenty-four months. If I had to pick one highlight out from the many, our honeymoon helicopter flight over and into the Grand Canyon was it. Reaching the canyon wall and diving down into it was one of those unforgettable experiences, the scene rich with vibrant colours and geological orgasms, followed up by dinner at a Native American Reservation and a fly by down the strip as the sun went down…)
(Ha Long Bay – As our last family vacation in the Far East, we had the choice of Australia or Vietnam, the latter winning by a unanimous decision. Three days in Hanoi gave us enough insight into the history of the country, visiting several historical monuments, seeing a traditional puppet show and sampling the finest food and cheap ales from the various eating emporiums and beer hoi, our Dong sure went a long way. The highlight for all was an overnight trip around Ha Long Bay. As we departed the misty harbour, we ate our seafood smorgasbords with gusto (not easy with prawns the size of small children) and once finished we ascended the staircase to reveal a cloudless sky, turquoise blue seas and thousands of limestone outcroppings, a jaw dropping sight similar to that of Grand Canyon years earlier. We stopped at fishing villages, took a row boat ride with two “oarsladies” who instantly fell in love with our princess, swam in the purest of oceans and visited an ancient cavern, from where my ultimate picture postcard vista was taken. This trip had such an impact on the boys that it is still their most favourable travel destination so far…)
(Snowdon – Like I said at the start of this post, proximity to home, the variability of the natural landscapes and the overall serenity of the place puts me at a peace with the world I have hitherto found elsewhere, and it was the ascent of Snowdon for the first time that solidified my love for the place. There are so many things to explore here, worlds largest man-made surfing lake, Europe’s fastest zip line, trampolining in disused slate mines, the list goes on and on. I would challenge anyone not to get bored in Gwynedd and as long as the weather is fair to fine, there is no better place on Earth…)
So in response to the question ‘How To Be An Explorer Of The World’, the answer is quite simple.
Just do it…