Well this is an interesting challenge, I mused when Restless Jo put my name forward for the A to Z. By then I had already had a nose through On the Luce’s A to Z and was wondering about giving it a punt, so when Restless Jo‘s call to action arrived I could no longer resist.
However I’m not going to do it all in one go, because being of a certain age, there are an awful lot of memories to plunder and a lot of stuff to look out. It may ramble on a bit with random bits of information, but I’m going to enjoy doing a bit of introspection and I might just discover something interesting about myself and the motivation behind why I do things while I’m at it.
A – Age on First International Trip
To be honest I can’t remember my first trip abroad. I was a mere toddler when my parents took me to the Spanish resort of Sitges. The first trip I can remember was to Estartit on the Costa Brava. I was about seven or eight at the time and tremendously excited about going in an airliner for the first time. Now back then jet aircraft were still a relative new phenomenon and I can remember how disappointed I was that when I discovered that our aircraft had propellers. I thought it was very old fashioned. It was a Bristol Britannia operated by British Eagle Airlines. Now they went bust in 1968 which means I could only have been eight years old at the outside. Known as the Whispering Giant, because of the low noise of its four turboprop engines, there were only 85 Britannias built between 1952 and 1960 and I now realise that I’m actually very lucky to have flown in a piece of British aviation history.
Speaking of classic aircraft, (Well Aircraft begins with an A doesn’t it?) in 1990, as a junior PR manager I got to fly in the other great British turboprop airliner the Vickers Viscount. It was a press trip to the Normandy Battlefields and we got a battlefield tour that took in the Pegasus Bridge the first place in France to be liberated (by the British 6th Airbourne Division soldiers who arrived in a glider), the landing beaches and the very moving War Cemetery .
Then in 2001 I got to fly overnight from Stansted to Edinburgh in the cockpit of a Lockheed Electra mail freighter. I was supervising a news team from TVAM who were doing a story on the Christmas mail operation. The Electra was first built in 1957, a year before I was born, and I can remember what a tight squeeze it was in the cockpit.Trying to prevent the pilot from being clobbered by the camera when the reporter did a talking head several thousand feet above the frozen English Midlands was mildly chilling, but the take off and landing from the pilot’s perspective is a memory I will treasure forever.
However all this talk of aircraft is taking us obliquely away from the question of age and travel. Childhood and teen family holidays for my family useualy meant Spain, sometimes we’d drive through France if we were camping, but mostly using that new fangled 1960s invention the package holiday. My late teens coincided with the deregulation of transatlantic air travel, so at 20 I had my first big solo travel adventure with a £75 ticket to New York on the Laker Skytrain and $300 in my wallet. I enjoyed my taste of America so much that the following year I went back and did the West Coast.
A busy career combined with further education and my own family life didn’t stop us from exploring Europe, Mexico and the Middle East. Then in 2000, an investment matured and we faced the dilemma of reinvesting the dough or taking a family trip around the world to Hong Kong, Australia, Fiji and Los Angeles. I think you can guess what we did.
With approaching middle age and an empty nest, the deregulation of European air travel, fall of the Communism and rise of the internet, facilitated lots of independent short hops to European cities like Prague, Budapest or Berlin. Funny really, back in the 1960s I would never have imagined I’d ever visit places like that as casually as taking a trip to Brighton or Southend, outside of a second hand trip via a Len Deighton spy novels.
B – Best Foreign Beer and Where
This is a hard one. I like lots of different beers, but I would say my favourites are: in Spain Estrella; in the Czech Republic Prague brewery pub Pivovarsky Dum‘s home brew: in Russia the one with a goat on the label; Victoria Bitter in Australia and in Belgium there are too many to have a favourite, I’m still working my way through them. I’m also not discounting the UK where we have so many great local beers in so many great pubs, so a pint of Deuchars in The Ensign Ewart on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is high on the the list .
However the best time I have ever had with the beer must be the trip to Munich with Mab, Old Nick and Mr Wolfe. What was so good about it? Well Bavarian beer is brewed according to stringent purity regulations dating back to 1516, add to that early Spring sunshine and good company and it’s all you really need to have a great time, talking irrelevant rubbish at one of the city’s open air beer gardens like the Englischer Garten or the Augustiner Keller.