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My Life In Travel: Frank Skinner, comedian

In Tokyo, I had to lick the water off before she understood me'

Interview by Sophie Lam

'In Tokyo, I had to lick the water off before she understood me'

First holiday memory?

As a child, I only remember two family holidays that were longer than day trips to Weston-super-Mare and Rhyl. Once we stopped off in the car and I saw some sand and charged straight in; it turned out to be a motorway service station with some building works. The two holidays I remember were to Bewdley and Highley. It wasn't until 15 years later when I started driving that I realised they were 15 miles apart.

Best holiday?

A ranching holiday in Montana, which was great because it's one of very few situations when you can legitimately wear a cowboy outfit. You need to wear cowboy boots for the stirrups and Wrangler jeans, because they don't have an inner double seam and therefore don't rub when you're riding. We had a cowboy fondue, which was basically a steak on a pitch fork that you dip in a vat. I lived in a log cabin and it was absolutely brilliant.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

The Lake District. My girlfriend and I watched a documentary about Wainwright, went on the internet and then booked a walking holiday there. There aren't any signposts, so I got lost and I rather liked that. It feels like they deliberately made it un-user-friendly. You can see why people wrote fantastic poetry there. We also did half of the Coast-to-Coast walk, which goes from St Bees on the west coast, across the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, to the east coast. We hadn't done much walking before and I wore some red boots from the 1980s. I learnt how to burst a blister with a needle and cotton and started saying hello to everyone I saw when I got back to London. I loved being able to go to the loo whenever I liked.

Ideal travelling companion?

Not counting my girlfriend, I like being with people who know places really well. I'd love to do Paris with someone like Serge Gainsbourg, but I probably would have died from heavy drinking after about three days.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I can't swim and I'm scared of water, which is a big holiday setback. Beach holidays aren't good. I went to Grenada once and there was nothing for me to do. I like cities and I'm a slightly obsessive sightseer. My girlfriend and I take it in turns to set the itinerary, so there's a competitive edge. We went to Paris last year and tried to outdo each other so we ended up seeing all sorts of things – it was very motivational.

Greatest travel luxury?

I do like fancy hotels. There's a place called La Colombe d'Or in St-Paul de Vence on the Côte d'Azur, where artists used to pay their keep with paintings – you can sit in the dining room under a Picasso or a Matisse.

Holiday reading?

I like reading if I'm somewhere warm with a hammock. I'll start two or three books before I go, to see if I am going to like them. I'm hoping that the rise of the e-book will mean you can travel with an entire library.

Where has seduced you?

Tokyo. It is enormous and I had a sense I was skating round on the surface, but I caught glimpses of a secret world underneath. There were virtually no signs in English, which was slightly scary but I've never felt more overseas. I remember miming that I wanted a glass of water in a restaurant. The waitress came back with a damp cloth to wipe myself with – I had to squeeze the water into my palm and lick the water off before she understood me.

Better to travel or arrive?

I hate flying. I used to be very nervous about it but I've got better as I've got richer, because it's less scary in business class when you're surrounded by wealthy people. I absolutely love train travel. I was in Austria and Switzerland during the World Cup and did a lot of rail travel, which was great because you get to see scenery, eat food and meet people in a cosy environment.

Worst travel experience?

A long weekend in Frankfurt, which is an industrial German town. Until you've had a long weekend in Frankfurt you don't know what a long weekend really is. I went sightseeing where there were no sights and visited museums that commemorated people I'd never heard of.

Worst holiday?

Grenada, because I was there in the middle of a tempestuous relationship and felt imprisoned on an island with someone I had come to loathe, with nothing to do. We were there for New Year and just as people started the countdown we began a row: "Auld Lang Syne" had real malice in it. We had another row a few hours later and she ran off into the jungle. I enquired about flying home early.

Worst hotel?

The Ibis next to Euston station. The room looked like it had been greased prior to my arrival. I don't know if there had been a group of Teddy boys there just before me. I also stayed at a place somewhere in the south west of England and as the girl took me up to my room she said "ooh, you've got the haunted room"; I spent the whole night listening to every creak, it was awful.

Best hotel?

Tsala Treetop Lodge in South Africa, which is on the Garden Route. My room was literally a tree house and I remember having a shower outside, listening to birds and monkeys chattering. I also like modern hotels like the Hi Hotel in Nice. I like gimmicky hotels where there's at least one thing in the room I'd want in my house.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

I once went to see Venezia Football Club play at home. In the UK they put football grounds in the most horrible locations, but in Venice it was the most beautiful walk to a football ground I've ever done in my life. The canals gave way to a very green and spacious walk and when I finally got there, the fans were the scariest I've ever seen in my life. There were 30ft perimeter fences that the supporters would try to climb and when police tried to pull them down they'd kick them in the face. It was also ladies day: women could get in half price.

Best meal abroad?

They do a large salad with things like chicory and hard boiled eggs at the Colombe d'Or, which is just fabulous. It arrives on about 15 trays and it feels so healthy and lovely and French. All the vegetables taste how you imagine they used to taste in the old days. In England, tomatoes taste like round pieces of tap water.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

I virtually always don't like the place I've arrived at on the first day of a holiday or work trip; I usually wish I hadn't come. It's not until the next morning when I go out that I decide that I like it and then decide I want to move there. I have to write off the first day of my holiday.

Dream trip?

I'd love to go to China. A previous editor of The Times told me if I don't go in the next few years, the China that is there now won't exist anymore. It's like a holiday clock and it scares me. Similarly, I'd love to visit Cuba, before Fidel Castro goes.

Favourite city?

New York. I was there recently and just wandered around on my own, which was blissful. I went to the New York Library which is really beautiful, then I'd go and buy some soup and eat it in Central Park.

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