Independent piece on travel
My Life In Travel: Richard Herring, comedian, writer and broadcaster
'I have learnt that travel broadens the waist'
Interview by Sophie Lam
Saturday, 22 January 2011
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First holiday memory?
From the age of about three to six, I used to go with my family to the Isle of Arran for our holidays. We stayed in a little cottage by the sea and I remember there was a coal fire. Once, my dad hired a rowing boat and we all went out to sea, but it got quite rough and my mum was screaming at him that we were all going to die; we got back fine. Another time we were driving down a winding road by the sea and my dad let me sit on his knee and steer the wheel.
My first holiday with my girlfriend, which was to Sicily in 2008. I think partly because it was our first holiday together and it was really romantic, but it was also really beautiful. We went to an amazing Roman villa called the Villa Romana del Casale and stayed in Syracuse where Archimedes was born. We hired a car and I was a bit uneasy about driving because all the streets are basically the width of the car, but the drive to the Roman villa was lovely.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
I like historical places such as Stonehenge and Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex. They aren't on the scale of anything in Italy, but they're my favourite places in Britain. I also love the beautiful landscapes in the Lake District.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That travel broadens the waist! Also, as a writer, being in a completely different environment can really fire the imagination and senses. It's good to see different cultures and you realise that each has a different norm and thinks that its way of doing things is right. It helps you realise that we should be more understanding of one another.
Ideal travelling companion?
My girlfriend. Before we were together I went on holiday on my own quite a lot and liked that autonomy, although it could get a bit lonely. However, my girlfriend and I seem to agree on what we're doing so there's no pressure.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I tend to have one holiday where I'll be a beach bum and one where I go somewhere interesting and look at cultural things. We're going to the Maldives next which will involve being a beach bum, and we went to Prague a couple of months ago to look at the historical stuff. Sometimes you can combine them if you find the right place, like Italy.
Greatest travel luxury?
I like to stay in nice hotels. I used to be happy camping and staying in youth hostels but now I will spend a bit extra on getting somewhere very comfortable. I went to Thailand about 10 years ago and really mixed it up, staying in nice hotels and then beach huts that cost about £2 a night. Often the beach huts were better.
I'll often read a book a day when I'm sitting on the beach. I read all sorts: comedian's autobiographies, some of the bigger history books and also novels.
Where has seduced you?
I keep going back to Italy. I love the lifestyle, the people, the history and countryside. You feel it's the sort of place you'd like to be old in.
Better to travel or arrive?
It depends on how you're getting there and which airline it is. If you spend a bit extra then travelling can be great, but I usually spend the money on the holiday rather than the flight.
Worst travel experience?
I had the worst and weirdest experience while inter-railing in Europe with my friend in 1986. I was writing my diary on a train and this old woman and a young girl came and sat in our carriage and started laughing – it was really odd. They got up and left and a strange dust appeared on my diary.
After that, we had a run of bad luck. We got to Pisa and couldn't find anywhere to stay so decided to get an overnight train to Vienna. Before we got on we ate some salad but started feeling ill on the train. The toilets were locked so we had to throw plastic bags of sick out of the window. Then we were in the wrong part of the train and had to sleep on the floor, and when we got to Vienna I left my wallet in a phone box. I think I had a gypsy curse on me.
Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. It was summer and either mine or my girlfriend's birthday; we walked around the gardens and had amazing food and the rooms were luxurious and full of interesting stuff. We had a lovely time.
I go to Edinburgh a lot for the Fringe and I finally got around to going up Arthur's Seat a couple of years ago. It was nice to look down on Edinburgh and get away from the madness of the Fringe. It's quite a challenging walk, especially if you've been spending the month drinking and not exercising.
Best meal abroad?
A place we came across in Bangkok; it was a proper Thai café. The food was spicy, gorgeous and authentic and the experience was great. Often when you go abroad you're eating a romanticised idea of the country's food so it was nice to eat what the locals enjoy.
I want to go to Egypt and see the pyramids and I'd also like to do the Inca trail.
It would be Pompeii or Rome, for losing yourself in the history. A lot of Pompeii has not yet been excavated and that's what's exciting – there's more to be found.
To the Maldives for two weeks. I had a very stressful time last year and worked really hard so I decided to splash out.
Richard Herring is on tour in the UK with 'Christ on a Bike: the Second Coming' (richardherring.com).