The travel bug: 1. Past times

There is nothing quite like two years of virally imposed seclusion to rekindle an appetite for travel in even the most jaded traveller.

I love travel, whether it be for business or pleasure, for education or entertainment, for duty or for none. It’s all travel and, in its own way, a piece in that jigsaw of experience. It’s what makes me me and you you.

I loved family holidays, our kids splashing in the pool while we sat on the terrace, drinking Kir, screwing our eyes against the sunset. But I also cherish those solitary moments that nobody else can share or would wish to – when I stood by the Spangler Farmhouse where General Lewis Armistead died on July 5, 1863, along with nearly 200 other Union and Confederate soldiers. I could almost smell the gunpowder. I remember walking the length of the Zeppelinhaupttribüne in Nuremberg, unable to take that one step forward onto the dais, so strong was the aura of evil. I have felt goosebumps beneath the window of the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, where Hitler waved to the crowds in 1940. Places sullied by evil but places nonetheless I had to visit.

Childhood holidays still come to mind in an instant – long drives in the Magnette and “are we there yet?” Minehead, Cornwall, sandcastles and starfish. Catching crabs in rock pools. The ozone smell of the beach and the sand between my toes. Dogeared postcards and sun-bleached ice cream stalls. Seaweed catching round my ankles as the tide washed over my feet.

I loved aeroplanes and going to the Finningley airshow with my dad when I was six, marvelling at the acrobatics of the aircraft so near to the crowd in a way that health and safety has long since precluded. We watched Victors and Valiants, Vanguards and Vulcans. I remember my rib cage rattling to the sound of the six Vulcan scramble that always finished the show. Magic.

I loved flying long-haul in 1966 and 1975 to stay with my aunts and uncles, all émigrés to America and Canada. Niagara Falls – “fortissimo at last” as Gustav Mahler famously remarked half a century before. My first experience of Baskin-Robbins and their 36 flavours. Rocky road, bubblegum, chocolate chip, rum and raisin – bounty beyond the imagination of the Donny boy who would queue listlessly for a sixpenny vanilla cone. Chipmunks, raccoons and bears, dazzling animal novelties to a Yorkshire boy used to ferrets. And candy floss for heaven sake – or cotton candy in the local vernacular. America simply blew my nine year old mind. And ever since, on the many trips to America I’ve been lucky enough to make, I’ve still been looking for that mythical lost America, where it was always summer.

Or our first European holiday , a thousand miles trek perhaps through Belgium and Germany, climbing in Austria on precipitous mountain roads, to a chocolate box hotel near Innsbruck. I remember Helga, a coltish blonde 13 year old from Mainz who made my 12 year old face blush when she smiled at me. She spoke no English and I spoke no German. We conversed in Latin incredibly. And her dad, one legged from a wound sustained in a panzer in the Ardennes. Or so we were told. He had medals. Father was sceptical.

The return journey was like the retreat from Moscow. After driving for nearly 14 hours we drew up beside the burnt out shell of a building in Liege to ask an old man for directions. He pointed to the still smouldering guesthouse and shrugged.

France has always been a favoured destination whether as part of my parents’ family or my own. Brittany, sadly now overrun by British holidaymakers was less well known in the 70s, was full of vignettes. I remember the best piece of lamb I have ever tasted in Cap Coz at the Hotel de Bretagne (I wonder how long it took them to come up with that name), almost rare and suffused with garlic. Melted in your mouth. And of course Mother telling us that every unfamiliar dish tasted like chicken. All credit to her for trying. It never did. Unless of course it was chicken. So programmed was my mother’s response that she would utter reassurances before she had fingered her Larousse as far as ‘poulet’. It did indeed taste like chicken. It was chicken. And father, seated at one end of a long zinc bar while his family played on the beach a few yards away. The smell of Gauloises and Pastis and the white noise of an ancient television in the corner erratically tuned to some unspecified Gallic sporting event. If we were particularly good as children we were allowed to read the Asterix books in the original language.

Although with hindsight it seems we travelled a lot, my perception was one of conservatism among my parents. When I married they were quick to extol the virtues of France and Germany as honeymoon destinations, deeply suspicious of my choice of Singapore, Malaysia and Bali. My father sternly told me to eat none of the food. Not even if it tastes like chicken I asked? My mother meanwhile shared the fruits of her learning with useful advice on how to deal with rattlesnakes – a sort of complex twisting and whip cracking sort of manoeuvre Certainly entirely different from my solution which was to run very fast in the opposite direction. I was pretty sure there were no rattlesnakes in Indonesia and told her so. That’s because it works, she said. She also explained how to deal with scorpions in the bed. It was a well-known problem I was told – scorpions love to join newlyweds in bed. Why they should pick on newlyweds was never adequately explained. Happy days.

So I think I caught the travel bug when I was a child. I’m surprised my mother didn’t have a protocol for that. She had ways of dealing with every other kind of bug.