“The three most exciting sounds in the world: anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.” George Bailey – It’s a Wonderful Life
When it comes to foreign travel three men have changed my life: Bill Bryson, Tim Berners-Lee and Michael O’Leary. Let me explain:
When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales. I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford. To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was faintly absurd, I knew of people who had been to France or Spain of course (or said that they had) but I always regarded them as slightly eccentric and wondered if they were telling the whole truth! As for going further than Europe I might as well have made plans to go to the moon!
Despite these severe limitations on travel opportunities I developed a desire to see interesting places after visiting them through the stories that my father used to tell me. He was a well read and an educated man who passed on to me his love of history and geography. The family house was never short of books and encyclopaedias and he always had an abundance of time to enjoy them and share their stories with me. Through his inspiration I learnt about Paris, Rome, Athens and Madrid and travellers like Marco Polo and Captain Cook and I vowed that one day I would see these places for myself.
As I grew older I became even more aware of the wider world and in my teenage years started to think ambitiously about overseas travel, a bit like George Bailey in ‘A Wonderful Life’, and I promised myself that one-day I would travel. Really travel. Since then I have been here and there but I hadn’t really travelled until those three men changed my life.
Bill Bryson is my favourite author (not counting people like Shakespeare of course, and I am sure that Bill wouldn’t mind that), because his books make me laugh and he has put fun into travel and reawakened for me the teenage dreams that I used to have of endless globetrotting to far off interesting places. His books made me want to be an independent traveller, to make my own arrangements and to discover the places that I had always wanted to see but was never quite sure how to go about it.
And then I discovered the Internet and the World Wide Web and this opened up vast new horizons for me and I thank Tim Berners-Lee for that. It is quite likely that I will be technically challenged on this point so just to be clear the Internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing: the Internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks and the Web is a collection of interconnected documents and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. Anyway the technical details do not really matter, what it means to me is access to information and unlimited travel opportunities.
In the 1970s and the 1980s for most people it was only really possible to travel if you used the services of a High Street Travel Agent because only they had the necessary network of connections to the big holiday companies and overseas hotels. And then the Web came along and opened up vast new horizons. Suddenly it was possible to delve into previously unknown dimensions and start to think about the unthinkable. Arranging your own overseas holidays directly and bypassing the travel agents and their 10% commission (possibly more, I don’t know).
That was all well and good but how was one to get to these new locations and the opportunities that were opening up? The answer came thanks to Michael O’Leary and Ryanair. Low cost air travel! That was what I was waiting for and thanks to St Michael that is what now makes European travel available to us all. I like the cheap flights and have set out to take advantage of them for as long as they are available and see as much of Europe as I possibly can.
What follows is a journal of my mid-life travels made possible by these three men (four if you count my father, which I do of course).