I love traveling, and in my younger days I’d be off somewhere at every opportunity. However, with the work I do now, it’s difficult to go away for any length of time and I’m married to someone who doesn’t like foreign holidays! And owning two dogs makes it quite difficult, as we’d never put them in kennels. One thing I look forward to in retirement (assuming I ever retire…) is the opportunity to travel more. Even John quite fancies a long trip to Australia and New Zealand. Anyway, here are some of my favourite places in the world that I’ve been to …
Washington has everything I want from a capital city. Fantastic sights, great restaurants,political haunts and some memorable bars. I first went to Washington in 1990, visiting friends and I have been back about 20 times since. The magic of the place always gets me. Each time I go back, I make sure I go to the Lincoln Memorial at midnight and just sit in front of it staring down the Washington Mall, just contemplating my life. I also love to sit in the Central Cafe in Union Station, which I’m told is no longer there. I’ve only been to the White House once, but I got a private tour, and even blogged from the Oval Office. Not many people can say that! I last went in January 2017 to cover Donald Trump’s inauguration.
I first went to Sydney back in 1992. Twenty years later I returned. Like Washington, Sydney has everything I want from a city. It’s far more cosmopolitan than Washington and is now massively multicultural. For me, Sydney’s main attraction is the water. The beaches are wonderful and the harbour has to be experienced. It’s impossible to describe its magnificence to someone who has never been there. Oddly, up close the Opera House is a little disappointing. I could imagine living in Sydney, and there aren’t many places in the world I could say that about. It’s also possibly the most expensive place I have ever been to, and that includes Switzerland. One day I want to go back and spent three months touring Australia. Can’t see it happening, though.
People who have never been there imagine Switzerland to be incredibly boring, and from this picture, you probably think I do too. Not a bit of it. I’ve spent most of my time in the German speaking part around Zurich and Lucerne. I love water and I love snow, and I love chocolate. So that gives you a clue as to why I love the country. It’s certainly one of the most scenic countries I have ever been to. Driving around there’s always something to look at. I took my mother on a weekend to Zurich about ten years ago. The memories of that trip will stay with me for a long time.
I only spent two days in San Fransisco, back in 1992 on a stopover on the way back from Australia, but I fell in love with the place. I don’t know why I haven’t been back. I loved the geography, the bay, the bridge, Fisherman’s walk, the bars, the people. Everything. It’s got a really relaxed feel about it, as if people know there’s more to life than work.
Saffron Walden is a small market town on the Essex-Cambridgeshire-Suffolk border. It’s where I grew up and went to school. It’s a beautiful little town, but with an excellent school. When I went there, there were 1200 pupils. Now there are 2200. In recent years its town centre has experienced a real renaissence, with lots of new shops and restaurants opening. I still love going back and wandering around seeing if there’s anyone that will remember me.
In 1991 I became the first British person to go to Beirut since the release of John McCarthy. Believe it or not I was speaking at a conference on transport privatisation. I got an SAS guard, and this picture shows me at the hotel with two soldiers from the Lebanese army. I was advised to stay in the hotel, but I couldn’t resist it and took myself off into the centre of Beirut and was then shown round the mountains and valleys surrounding Beirut. I must have been mad, but it was a memorable trip and I would love to go back now. Then, the place was largely still in ruins.
North Norfolk feels like home to me, even though I am an Essex boy. The coastline is unique and very beautiful. When I was at university in Norwich I would often drive up to the coast and walk along Mundesley beach on my own at midnight and just contemplate life. When I became Tory candidate for the area in 2003 I thought I had gone to heaven. We had a lovely little cottage in Swanton Abbott but had to sell it when I lost the election. Five years ago we bought a house in Lamas, just north of Norwich, near Aylsham. If I have my way, we’ll move there lock, stock and barrell at some point.
Ashdon is the village where I spent the first 18 years of my life. It’s the most beautiful little village, four miles from Saffron Walden in north Essex. I and my sisters have inherited the family farm, so I still have a real tie there. I wrote about what Ashdon means to me in a recent article HERE.
Bad Wildungen is a spa town near Kassel in Hessen. I spent my gap year there in 1980-81. It’s where I learned to speak German fluently, while working in a hospital for paraplegics. I guess it was that year that made me grow up. In truth I love Germany as a whole. I also spent a year teaching in a school near Stuttgart. That was less enjoyable, but I did love my weekends in the Black Forest. I really miss my German family. In 2015 I went back to visit them, and they hadn’t changed a bit.
I only spent about four days in Colorado, but what a four days. It was back in 1990. I absolutely loved Denver. We then spent two days in Vail skiing. What an experience. I forgot to apply any sun lotion and suffered the consequences. My face exploded, but it gave me the best sun tan I have ever had, which lasted for about 6 months. The skiing was better than anywhere i have ever skiied in Switzerland or Austria. It seemed a different kind of snow. I also spent a great evening in Boulder, Colorado at a dinner theatre, watching Chess.
I’ve only been to Israel once, and it was only four days, but boy was a lot packed in. This picture is from the Golan Heights. We went to the Sea of Galilee and stood on the spot where the Sermon on the Mount was delivered. I’m not religious, but it did feel like a rather holy experience. Jerusalem was something else too. I love the markets, the smells, the people. We also went to Ramallah. We stayed in Tel Aviv, which is a real westernised city and full of sights.
I went to Budapest on the spur of the moment in 1990. I was in Vienna with an American friend and we decided to drive to the border. We hadn’t realised you could now cross, so cross we did, and ended up spending three days in Hungary. We found that the country’s first McDonald’s was just being built. The food was astonishing and everything was very cheap, including a luxury hotel. The Parliament building was very gothic and made me feel quite at home. Lovely people too. Highly recommended.
Rwanda is not a place I ever thought I would visit, but I am so glad I did. It was back in 2007 and I went to make a documentary, covering the social action projects embarked on by a group of Conservative volunteers. I had never seen such poverty anywhere else before, and yet it seemed a very happy country bearing in mind what had happened in 1994, when 800,000 tutsies were killed. We were based in the capital, Kigali, where the taxis take the form of hitching a ride on the back of a motorcycle. Great fun, but very dangerous. The roads are haphazard and the drivers are lunatics but it’s an incredibly beautiful country and one day I’d like to return.
I’ve only been to Rome once, when I was 18, in 1980. It’s a city that totally bewitched me and I intend to go back very soon. It’s been far too long. We like to think of London as a city steeped in history. Well it’s got nothing on Rome. Every street corner reeks of it. I remember Rome had a buzz about it like no other city I have ever been to.
I’ve been to Dublin three or four times and it’s a city I don’t feel I’ve properly explored. It doesn’t really feel like a capital city and in some ways reminds me of a larger version of Cambridge. It may have been part of an independent state for nearly a century, but the British legacy is obvious everywhere you turn. It’s also a very friendly place. Growing up in the 70s and 80s we always felt the Irish hated us, but you couldn’t go anywhere in the world better than Dublin to get a warm, friendly welcome.
I went to Leningrad, as it was then, in April 1975 on a school trip. I found it a much more impressive city than Moscow. I was entranced by the ice flows in the River Neva, and even at the age of 12 I could appreciate the wondrous architecture. I have to say, though, that Russian food is the worst I have had anywhere in the world. And when I went back to Moscow a few years ago, it certainly hadn’t improved!
Norwich is the ultimate regional capital. People always snigger when I say that it’s got everything London has got, but on a much smaller scale. But it’s true! It’s a vibrant cultural centre, has a great university, a fantastic selection of restaurants and a characterful permanent market. The Tombland area around the cathedral is particularly impressive. As you walk on its cobbled streets you can easily transport yourself back to Dickensian times.
If I couldn’t live in Norfolk I’d happily live in North Devon, especially around Braunton, Saunton or Croyde. I have family who live there and have been visiting the area off and on for forty years. It’s a beautiful coastline and a different way of life. I really envy my two cousins who have made their home there.
Ann Arbor is the ultimate university town. Without the University of Michigan it would be just another mid West town. I spent a month there in the summer of 1987 and returned on several occasions afterwards. If you’ve seen The Paperchase, you’ll know what kind of town it is.
The Florida keys are one of the wonders of the world. Key West is a place of pure decadence, with a really sultry feel to it. It’s a place to relax and just shoot the breeze. It has jazz influences, Cuban influences and latin American influences. It’s easy to imagine a bit of voodoo taking place too.