I’m going to compile a holiday bucket list. The idea came when I was watching the World Cup and I began to wonder what goes on in some of those mysterious faraway places. I realised I’d already visited sixteen countries, whose teams started the World Cup: Wales, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Portugal (Madeira), Croatia, USA, Mexico, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal. On my bucket list I’m adding Australia, Japan, Ghana and Iran.
Some travel experiences have only been fleeting visits or barely remembered holidays from prehistoric times: for instance, I’ve only spent one night in Germany. It involved a train trip from Amsterdam, where I’d spent a few hours in a coffee shop, then started on the alt beer as soon as I hit Dusseldorf. The old town was fantastic, as far as I remember. I went to Denmark as part of a school trip in 1973, and the only thing I remember is the visit to the funfair at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. I definitely want to ride the ghost train to see if it’s as good as I remember it from when I was eleven.
I’ve long held a fascination with the Middle East. In my thirties I’d seek out places that would give a frisson of culture shock. Before home-working, part of the joy of going on holiday was telling work colleagues back home about your adventures: the more outlandish destination the better. That avenue of pleasure has pretty much been closed off now, but Arabian souks and the markets of Istanbul still hold a fascination.
I went to North Africa for the first time in 1985 on a holiday to Morocco. Many years later I tipped my feet into West Africa with The Gambia and Senegal. If you enjoy rustic villages and nice beaches, I can heartily recommend The Gambia. There’s limited tourist infrastructure, and no big cities. The capital, Banjul, is sleepy to say the least. The chaotic border chaos between The Gambia and Senegal is an experience to savour.
Ghana is next on my West Africa bucket list. In the North, I’m due a re-visit to Egypt and Tunisia. Libya and Algeria aren’t on the general tourist radar, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of bounds. I raised friends’ eyebrows when I visited Lebanon. Any country that’s recently had a civil war is worth a punt. With few tourists in Lebanon the locals were welcoming and pleased to see me. I’ll be back in Beirut when my wife’s gets a new passport without the Israeli visa stamp.
Iran has topped my list of must-see places for many years, but I’ve never found the right moment. Maybe there isn’t a right moment; maybe you just have to go – subject to fluctuating visa requirements. I want to go to Iran; not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. I’d have to go on my own, as I’d never get the wife to agree to it. Mo allows me to book holidays to surprise her. The fun is how far will we get before she realises where we’re going. Sometimes she only knows what country we’re headed to when we’re in Arrivals. Flying into Israel was fine. The magic of Jerusalem hit home, and the overland bus and taxi crossing into Jordan was accepted as an adventure. Iran though: telling her to don a black shroud on arrival would be a big ask. I’d get stick for years after that.
I’d want to do it properly for full cultural shock effect: via train from Turkey. Turkey’s a fantastic country, but most people only see the tourist resorts. I gather Eastern Turkey is a lot different from the European-style resorts of the west coast.
I’ll save Iran for when things appear more settled over there. Japan and Australia are just too expensive to consider right now. You’ll be able to read about my January break to Marrakech, but in the meantime, I’ve posted a few of my favourite travel memories for your delectation.