A to Z of Travel Challenge

Fellow travel blogger Johana Bradley http://restlessjo.wordpress.com/ set me an A to Z travel challenge which kept me up later than usual trying to unlock my memories and filtering the results for inclusion. Here goes:

A : Age at which you went on your first trip abroad:

00 Monarch Airlines

In the spring of 1976 I made arrangements for my very first trip to continental

In the spring of 1976 when I was 22 I made arrangements for my very first trip to continental Europe and booked a Cosmos holiday to Sorrento in Italy with my girlfriend Linda.  We were due to go on the 12th June but at some point shortly before travel she fell for the charms of a reporter on the local newspaper and abruptly ended the relationship.  This created a problem because it was within the no refund period and so I was faced with the prospect of losing all my money.   We had a family crisis meeting and the solution was found when dad enthusiastically stepped in and agreed to take her place.  That’s what dads are for – I would be available to do exactly the same if required.


B : Best foreign beer you’ve had and where:

I like lots of different types of beer wherever I go but the answer has to be Mythos, not because it is necessarily the best but because if I am drinking it then it means that I am in my favourite places – The Greek Islands!


C : Cuisine : 


Difficult one this as there is not really a country where I don’t enjoy the food so I am going to say Spain because I adore tapas and the way of life that it represents.


D : Destinations, favourite, least favourite, and why:

Amorgos Windmill

Greece is my favourite place in all of Europe.  For me the very best way to see the country and the islands is to hop on a ferry and drift between them setting down now and then to enjoy the history, the people, the food, the ouzo and the Mythos!

In 2011 after twenty-five years I had enjoyed a few days in Wales but here are four reasons why I won’t be rushing back:

    • The weather is just too unreliable and there is nothing worse than getting soaked and miserable and spending lots of money trying to find a dry attraction.
    • It is too far to drive and the roads are awful.  Driving in Spain and France is a relaxing and enjoyable experience but on the UK’s crowded roads it is just no fun.
    • It isn’t different enough and shopping in Tesco is not the same as going to Carrefour or Mercadona and you can get English television!
    • My own fault this one but six weeks after returning home I received a letter from Heddlu Dyfed- Powys Police and a notice of intended prosecution for exceeding the 30 mph speed limit somewhere in Aberystwyth. That’s how to make visitors feel welcome!


E : Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:

In Riga in June 2006 and one afternoon as we walked we heard cheerful music approaching and as we turned into a long narrow street we could see a procession of people walking towards us that was a sea of colour with young people waving sunflowers, balloons and small Latvian flags.  They were handing out sweets to onlookers like us and I put some into my pocket for later.  I think that it must have been the most joyful procession that I have ever seen with singing and dancing and every participant looking thrilled and happy to be involved.  The procession was part of the celebration of the family festival and it was a very uplifting experience indeed.


F : Favourite mode of transportation :

I like flying, motoring and boat rides but most of all I like train journeys.  In May 2012 we will travel to Russia and visit Moscow and St Petersburg which are two places that have been on my short list for a long time.  The trip will also include an overnight sleeper train which is something else that I have always wanted to do.


G : Greatest feeling while travelling :

Ryanair over the Alps

It has to be the pilot’s announcement ‘cabin crew – seats for landing please’ because arrival at a new airport is always exciting. The clatter of seat buckles being unclasped, the undignified pushing and shoving, the slow creep along the central aisle of the airplane and then the moment when you get to the door and taste the air of a new holiday destination.

H : Hottest place you’ve travelled to :

I find it quite difficult to remember extremes of weather, coldest, windiest, wettest etc. But I think the hottest may have been Rome.  It was certainly hot when I went there in 2003 with my son Jonathan and I had to discreetly change my shirt down in the metro.  We went again in 2011 and in the grip of an unexpected heat wave while the Romans sought out shade we did what the English do best and went out in the midday sun.


I : Incredible service you’ve experienced and why :

Sixt Winter Tyres

Upon return home from a trip to Germany I raised the issue of what I considered to be an excessive winter tyre charge in this journal and the reaction has left me speechless with admiration for Sixt Car Hire.

I experienced the best customer service experience that I have ever had with a response from the Customer Services Manager in the United Kingdom who provided me with a clear explanation of the law relating to winter tyres and the company policy in respect to additional charges.  He also promised to raise the matter with the Company’s Commercial Director.


J : Journey that took the longest :

I visited the National Parks of the United States of America (not all of them of course) on a coach trip holiday with my parents and my brother Richard in 1995.  Mum and Dad liked to travel and generously invited us to accompany them on a coach trip holiday to the mid-west mountain states of the USA on a journey that would start more or less at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and finish at the Grand Canyon in Colorado.


K : Keepsake from your travels :

I have brought back holiday souvenirs but I think I would have to say My Travel Journals and my photographs.  I started taking a notebook with me on holiday went I went on a backpacking island hopping holiday with my daughter to the Greek islands in 2006.  Thanks to Ryanair I was beginning to travel more regularly and I found that I was beginning to forget little bits of detail or even get the holidays confused so I took pen and paper and kept a diary which has become my blog.


L : Let-down sight, where and why :

We wanted to go to Montenegro because we were aware of it up and coming status as a premier holiday destination and we spent three days there in 2010. We liked it but not as much as we expected to and to be honest we were glad to be going back to Croatia.


M : Moment when you fell in love with travel :

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s even though there were 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.  The family house was never short of books and encyclopedias 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.


N  : Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in :

Grand Hotel des Palmes in Palermo Lobby

Another difficult choice but if pushed for an answer one of my favourite hotels was the Grand Hotel et des Palmes in Palermo, which is one of those early 1900’s type hotel built in the grand design of that time and is the most legendary hotel in Sicily.

In 2007 we visited Palermo and stayed at the Grand Hotel Et Des Palmes.  The hotel was excellent and the attentive porter showed us to a spacious and superior room at the rear of the hotel with nice furniture and decoration, a recently refurbished bathroom and a well stocked mini-bar.


O : Obsession : what are you obsessed with taking photos of when you travel :

Amorgos Door

Windows and doors are an essential part of the historic and architectural character of any building and I find them interesting because for me they represent the transition between the public and the private world. In ancient Rome the holes in the sides of the buildings were appropriately called ‘wind eyes’.

While we wander through Greek islands as temporary guests we are only allowed to see the exterior of buildings and the doors and windows of the houses offer a tantalising voyeuristic vision of a private life beyond that we can only guess at or imagine.  My favourite doors are in the Cyclades where, next to the white that we all associate with the islands, the prevailing colour is blue.


P : Passport stamps, how many and from where :

Well, not many because stamping passports seems to be a thing of the past and the Schengen Agreement has put a stop to it in Europe.

 Morocco is a country where they stamped our passports and Croatia is quite officious as well.  Once when leaving Bosnia at the border we insisted on stamps in the passport to remember our visit by but almost immediately wondered if this had been altogether sensible when the policeman on the Croatian side eyed it with suspicion and applied his own stamp to cancel it.


Q : Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where :

I visited Barcelona in 2005 before I had really heard about or fully appreciated the architecture of Antoni Gaudi so this place came as a real surprise.  On a sightseeing day I was walking along the Passeig de Gràcia part of the Illa de la Discòrdia in the Eixample district of Barcelona and heading for the Casa Milà, which is Gaudi’s most famous creation when across the street I saw the most amazing building that I have ever seen that turned out to be the Casa Batlló, recently restored as a museum and open to the public.


R : Recommended sight, event or experience :

On our second visit to Krakow in 2010 we chose to go on Mike’s Crazy Communist Tour,  we had seen this on a Michael Palin travel programme and it looked like fun so we were keen to give it a try.  The feature of the tour is that the transport is in an original ‘communist’ Trabant car with the promise of a ‘crazy’ driver and sure enough outside our hotel was the vehicle and the driver who presented himself as Eric and who immediately drove us away across the cobbled square.


S : Splurge ; something you have no problem forking out money for when travelling :

Beer!  Once in Croatia I went to a small and simple little shop but at the beer fridge I couldn’t remember from last year which one I preferred, was it Karlovačko, Ožujsko or Laško?  So I did the sensible thing and bought one of each so that I could try them all just to be sure.  Back at the room I tried the red Karlovačko first of all and it might have been that one but I knew that I couldn’t really be certain until I had sampled them all.


T : Touristy thing you’ve done :

Disneyland paris 01

I enjoyed Disneyland Paris but having been to the real thing in the USA I have to say that my final assessment is that there is something missing.  It doesn’t have the soul of Disney and feels like a very good theme park rather than the real Disney experience.  It is expensive, the staff are slow and lack enthusiasm for the place and the real disappointment is that the characters are not wandering about so regularly as they are in America where they appear around nearly every corner but here they were restricted to special areas and then only for very short appearances.


U : Unforgettable travel memory :


On a weekend away to Bratislava in Slovakia we took a train journey to the Austrian capital Vienna.  I stress Austrian because today we were visiting another country and this involved crossing a state boundary with border controls.  What a good idea it would have been therefore to take a passport!

Shortly out of Bratislava two men in military uniforms wandered through the train checking documents.  I naturally assumed that they were checking tickets so was surprised when they showed no interest in these whatsoever and demanded travel documents instead.  The policemen asked if we had any alternative forms of identification and Kim optimistically offered photographs of her children, perhaps hoping that a family resemblance might be acceptable to them.


V : Visas ; how many and for where :

None in my passport at the moment but I have had them in the past to travel to the United States and soon I will be applying for a Russian visa so that I will get let in when we travel to Moscow and St. Petersburg later this year.

W :  Wine, best glass of wine while travelling and where :


In Bratislava we walked to the old town and selected a pavement bar in the Town Hall Square where we had a champagne party that we had promised ourselves to celebrate the departure of an unpopular and particularly obnoxious former member of staff back home at work.  If you ever get to read this Tim, we mean that most sincerely!


X : eXcellent view and from where :

A plane journey for a flight from Monument Valley all the way down the Grand Canyon; it was a small high wing twin engine Cessna plane for only about a dozen passengers and we bagged the seats directly behind the pilot with great views through the cockpit window.  After take-off he took us first across the valley and around the towering buttes for another look at an alternative angle and as he did so he banked the aircraft first one way and then the other so that everyone on board could fully enjoy the spectacle.

The Grand Canyon is almost indescribable in its breathtaking grandeur and we flew for eighty miles down the eastern side of the gorge over the Painted Desert and past Lake Powell and the whole journey took almost two hours. I don’t think that there could have been a better way to see the Grand Canyon than from this elevated perspective and it is certainly an experience that I shall never forget.


Y : Years spent travelling :

Mundesley 1959

Since I was a boy whenfamily 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 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!

Recently I have added together all of the holidays to Greece and I discovered that I have spent more than half of a year of my life there!


Z : Zealous sports fans and where :


While sightseeing in Avila in Spain a mini-bus pulled up and a dozen or so men in blue and white football shirts got out.  They were making a lot of noise and made straight for the bar.  They were from the nearby town of Aranda de Duero to watch a football match because their team Arandina were playing Real Ávila in the Spanish third division but as kick off wasn’t until five o’clock they were going to be doing a lot of drinking that afternoon.


I now invite all fellow travel bloggers to prepare and post their own A to Z list…

7 responses to “A to Z of Travel Challenge

  1. That’s what I call value for money, Andrew- 24 posts for the price of one! I knew I could rely on you.
    One of the things I love about reading these A-Z’s is the way different stories trigger different memories in me, like flying low from Athens to Paros in a tiny light aircraft- wonderful! Know what you mean about documenting it all- looking back at my pre-digital photo collection, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate one Greek Island from another. The photo albums are currently sitting on the living room floor waiting- the next challenge to get them all onto the computer. Help!
    Thanks for taking part, and for your challenge. Seriously envy you St Petersburg.


  2. Ooh, thanks for sharing this, I’m going to pinch it for my blog! 🙂

    A friend of mine highly recommended the summer festival in Riga, it sounds wonderful. We’re planning on visiting Riga later this year but unfortunately I think it will be too late to see the festivities.

    I look forward to hearing about your rail journey in Russia as I’m also planning a similar trip for the future! Will you also be going through Mongolia and China? The only thing that concerns me about all this is the tricky visas, but I’m finding Real Russia ( http://www.realrussia.co.uk/ ) enourmously helpful.

    Did Sixt find your post about the tyre charge online and contact you based on it? That would be quite impressive indeed!

    Thanks for sharing so many memories in one post. 🙂


    • Thanks for the comment. Sixt contacted me within hours of posting my critical blog and invited me to explain my complaint. Shortly afterwards they refunded a significant % of the charge and a week or so after that sent me a platinum card with guaranteed future discounts & upgrades – really impressive.


  3. Pingback: Challenge: A to Z of Travel | dinosaurs can't knit

  4. Pingback: challenge: a to z of travel | The Adventures of Wembolina

  5. what a lovely post – I blame Jo for a lot of late nights (only joking Jo!) but I am loving finding new blogs to enjoy and things to join in with – and this was a delight to read with some wonderful photographs..
    I shall be back to read more! thank you for sharing so many memories


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