I had become friends with an Irish couple who moved to Jerusalem with his job as a mechanic in the UN. I went over for the Christmas and New Year period. Jerusalem is one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been. So much history crammed into such a small spot. And, although I’m not religious, it was pretty special to be in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
Sixteen is an impressionable age. But even so, it was easy to be seduced by the tales of travel that my first girlfriend’s father, David, recounted – no doubt to the ennui of his family who had probably heard them many times before.
David had had a long career with Shell and his job had seen him visit many far flung places. I lapped it up and it really inspired me. So much so that at that point, I set myself the goal of visiting 50 countries by the time I’m 50.
Thinking back, by 16, I had visited USA, Canada, Switzerland, France, Italy, Iran, Netherlands and Norway – the last three only because my father (who coincidentally was also a David who worked for Shell) had lived there. So only 8 down. I can’t imagine how I thought I’d get to 50, apart from the fact that time was on my side.
During my late teens and early twenties, I picked off more European countries … Germany, Austria, Ireland, Greece, Luxemburg, Spain – plus I ended up visiting the Mayan coast of Mexico. That one was a bit unexpected. I went to stay with my family in up-state New York when I was 21 and, on arrival, my cousin informed me of a very cheap deal he’d found. In retrospect, we really were innocents abroad, but it was great fun. Cancun in the late 80s was a fairly new destination, with practically no Brits. I still feel slightly queasy whenever tequila is mentioned.
In my early 20s, I added Israel to my tally. I had
Whilst driving down to Eilat through the Negev desert in a UN Landcruiser for a few days on the beach, we stopped at the lowest point on earth. As anyone who has done it will tell you, it is an incredibly odd experience floating in the Dead Sea. The water feels oily and, of course, you are so buoyant. But this day, whilst looking up at the cloudless sky, it began to rain. I’m not entirely sure how the atmospherics created this phenomenon, but the whole thing was topped off when a coach-load of Soviet opera singers got into the water and started belting out arias in Russian. That will live long in the memory.
As a young professional on relatively limited funds, really going after my goal was pretty tough. But, as life developed, my first wife was happy for us to choose destinations that I hadn’t already ticked off. 1996 was a bumper year. On a holiday we visited the Far East, taking in Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. It was the impending handing back of Hong Kong to the Chinese that sparked that trip. My brother lives there now and in retrospect very little has changed, but in 1996, we truly believed it could be one of the last opportunities to visit the place. I’m really looking forward to going back and exploring more of Asia later this year. Also at that time, I had a job that had me travelling a lot to the Caribbean, so I also added the Bahamas, Antigua, St Martin, Barbados, Curacao and Jamaica. Can’t imagine I’ll ever do 10 new ones in 12 months again, but then, who knows?
In the late 90s, Eastern Europe opened up and this created a host of new, relatively low cost options. So many of the places that I’ve visited since then were simply unobtainable when I was 16. Of the former Eastern bloc countries, I have travelled to Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.
My daughters, Holly and Orla were born in 1997 and 1999 respectively. Holly counted up the other day and told me that she has been to 28 countries already – way ahead of my tally at her age. Of course, most of those countries she has done with me. I guess it’s quite odd for family holiday destinations to be chosen with such variety. But the girls’ list includes Egypt, Morocco, Cayman Islands, Denmark, Vatican City and Monaco, as well as some of those from Eastern Europe that I mentioned.
Where am I against my goal? Some would argue that I should include the UK, but that has always felt a bit like cheating. So, excluding my home country, I’m on 47 and there are just under two years to go until I’m 50. And the round the world plans that Jane and I have are well underway, which will have me reaching 50 later this year. Ahead of target!
And, David. Thank you for providing me with my initial inspiration more than 30 years ago.
FULL LIST AS AT THE END OF 2015:
|Italy||Greece||Hong Kong||St Martin||Malta|
|Netherlands Antilles||Czech Republic|