Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

My life in travel: Top Gear presenter James May

James May (right) presents 'Oz and James Drink to Britain' with Oz Clark (left) on BBC2

James May 'Sometimes the journey itself can be great, especially if in a car'

First holiday memory?

Oddly enough, it's of the back seat of a car. I was so small I'd already gone to bed but was heaved out again for a night drive down to somewhere like Dorset in the MkI Cortina. It was the first time I'd seen the street lights, and I can remember them very vividly. I must have been about three years old.

Best holiday?

I'm ashamed to say this may have been a work trip. I made a programme about sharks for Sky a few years ago, and it involved living on a yacht in the Bahamas for two weeks. I loved it, and would recommend it without hesitation.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

The West Country. A lot of my family came from there and I feel an attachment to the area, even though I've never lived there myself. When I drive down the A303 I can actually feel my spirits lifting slightly.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Lots of simple life skills about looking after your wallet and wearing a hat, but perhaps nothing more philosophical than that. I'm never entirely convinced that travel broadens the mind; I worry that it may just be a displacement activity. I can also foresee a time when we look back on tourism as something deeply unethical. Sorry.

Ideal travelling companion?

The girlfriend. I have to say that, though, don't I? I've also had great holidays with mates and quite a few on my own when I was younger.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I'm a culture vulture I suppose. I have a bit of a weakness for historic places and museums. I'm also quite keen on exploring the globe's drinking habits.

Greatest travel luxury?

Hand luggage. All that really matters in life can go in the overhead locker, although it really could harm a fellow passenger if it's moved during the flight. Rucksacks are the work of Satan and I absolutely will not countenance suitcases with wheels on for men.

Holiday reading?

Whatever I was in the middle of reading when I left, usually, plus a handful of nerdy magazines about aeroplanes or motorcycles. Sometimes I will take a travel guide or a novel set in the country I'm visiting, but this soon becomes a bit EM Forster.

Where has seduced you?

Most consistently, Italy. But I've also been captivated by Japan and bits of the Middle East. I may have just read too much Omar Khayyam as a teenager.

Better to travel or arrive?

Sometimes the journey itself can be great, especially if in a car or on a motorcycle. But generally I prefer to arrive. The objective is to be somewhere else. I can "travel" around the M25. Whenever I see a camper van with a sticker in the window saying "Life is a journey, not a destination" I get a bit cross.

Worst travel experience?

A Russian sleeper train from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod, for all the obvious reasons.

Worst holiday?

I once went to Corfu.

Worst hotel?

Hotel Moskva, Red Square, 1997. Staying in a brothel is tiresome.

Best hotel?

The Holiday Inn Pune in India, which has a Western approach to plumbing and Indian approach to service. Superb.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

My favourite walk is around the West End of London; my favourite swim was snorkelling in the Ras Mohammed national park in Sinai; my favourite ride was the Grand St Bernard pass in Switzerland; and my favourite drive was across the Jordanian desert in a Land Rover.

Best meal abroad?

A bowl of noodles in Takayama, Japan. They were made with ferns and mushrooms from the mountains. I was pretty hungry, though.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Have a wash, especially after a flight. I hate the way aeroplanes make you smell.

Dream trip?

I'd like to fly to the North Pole in an airship, which is not such a daft idea as it sounds.

Favourite city?

That would have to be London. I'm with Dr Johnson on this one.

Where next?

I'm off to Sri Lanka. I can have Sri Lankan food every day for every meal. This is also possible in London, of course, but there are distractions at home.

'Oz and James Drink to Britain' starts on BBC2, on Tuesdays from 6 January at 8pm



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