This week we took some time out to go to The South Downs with our two dogs and three children. We found a lovely dog friendly hotel called the Hampshire Hog in Clanfield. At 79 for a double room, with breakfast thrown in, that was excellent and sited on the edge of the Queen Elizabeth park, there were amazing walks. We also got an amazing day on the beach at the lovely West Wittering beach, which is in my humble opinion, the best beach in the South East of England.
It got me thinking about my top ten holidays. I'm not an Ibiza party person. Generally I like cities and I like being around people, so my list won't be full of tips for beaches, etc.
1. Australia in 2007 and 2018.
My Dad was an Aussie. Strangely I had no desire to go there. This was mostly because being a music nut, there didn't seem to be much to attract me. In 2007, we decided to take the kids. We did a tour of the East Coast. We stayed on Dunk Island, an amazing place devastated by a Hurricane since. We visited family in Cairns, went to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. In late 2017, we were at a charity dinner and drunkenly bid with friends for a two week stay at a luxury apartment in Hamilton Island. We won that for £850, which was about a third of the normal price and went with friends, also visiting Sydney and Melbourne. I have to say that there is nothing quite like snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. We visited Australia's pub of the year in Melbourne and had an amazing time. We saw the Opera house and chilled in St Kilda's, listening to a good fun Irish band. It is a good place to hang out and if you ever can afford it, check it out. I am glad we spent the quality time with the children there.
2. USA 2008.
In 2008, we visited Los Angeles and San Francisco with the kids. A huge cloud was thrown over the holiday as my Mum died unexpectedly on the second day. I was preparing to fly back, but my sisters called to say that they'd arranged the funeral for after we returned, and that Mum would want us to enjoy ourselves. I took that literally. We saw The Steve Miller Band and Joe Cocker in Concorde. We ate Japanese in San Fran. We did the Six Flags theme park, which the kids loved. We chilled on Laguna beach. It was great. I even went to mass and the Parish Priest offered prayers for my mum and said some kind words. The whole community gave me their condolences. It was uplifting to know that there are nice people everywhere.
3. 1987 Scotland.
I'd only been seeing Clare for a year and a half and we decided to take a holiday away together. Sadly for Clare, she found that I wasn't a beach person. I had a yearning to go to Scotland. Neither of us could drive, so we got a Scotrail ticket. This gave us a weeks rail travel on any train in Scotland. It was great. We visited the Edinburgh festival. We visited John O'Groats, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness and The Isle of Skye. It was great. Taking the train was a great way to relax. Every train was late every day. It was part of the fun. If you've never been to the festival, I thoroughly recommend it.
4. 1989 Eurorail.
Deciding that the Scotrail trip was fun, we decided to get more ambitious and did a Eurorail ticket for a couple of weeks. We went to Strasbourg, Vienna, Budapest, Thessalonica, Istanbul, Munich and Amsterdam. For me, one of the best moments was finding that The Potato five, a Ska band I follow, were playing in Amsterdam. I have to say, of all the places, I loved Istanbul. The Turks were really friendly and we found a great little bar, that served beers and what are best described as Tapas. We were there for four days and went in every day. On the last day, we said our goodbyes and they didn't charge us. It is a great way to see Europe.
5. USA 1992.
In 1992, I had split up with Clare for a while. I decided to spend some time hanging out on the East Coast of the USA. I mentioned this to my best friend Chris and his wife Elaine and they decided to tag along, We flew to New York and did a road trip around New York state, Pennsylvania and Washington. Upstate New York was amazing. We went in October, so the sights of the leaves in colour in the Catskills and Adirondacks was amazing. We sampled some of the great microbreweries. We did the New York areas. Chinatown, The Italian sector, etc. The Museums in Washington. After 2 weeks Chris and Elaine left. I spent a couple of weeks extra. I managed to blag tickets to the CMJ awards and ended up on a table with Trish Yearwood, who won the award for best country artist. I took a full part in the party that followed. Trish was lovely, reminded me of my big sister Val. It was during the Election campaign and one hotel we'd booked happened to have a George Bush Rally there. We took one look and turned around, finding another place which was more to our liking!
6. France 1994.
In 1994, I'd got back together with Clare. As she was bored of listening to tales of the marvellous holiday I'd had with Chris and Elaine, the decision was made to make some memories with them together. I had a VW camper van, so we decided to do a tour of France. I had the van fully serviced before I left as a precaution, but it broke down in Paris on the first day. It turned out there was an oil pump problem, so we could only do 50 miles at a hop. Nevertheless, we managed to get to Paris, Fontainebleau, La Rochelle, The Loire valley, La Puy, and stayed at a couple of small country Gites in the middle of nowhere. I eventually found a VW dealer who fixed the van. We had some amazing meals and many of the towns were having small festivals. It was a really great couple of weeks. France is a really good place for a road tour. One of the things will stay with me forever is the visit to Orador-sur-La-Glane. I am not really one for visiting the sites of atrocities, but the bloke who was fixing our van was nearby, so we went. It brought home to me why fanatics must be resisted.
7. Thailand 2017.
We took the kids to Thailand in 2017. It was a great family holiday. The food was great, the people were lovely and there was a lovely beach and town. We did a few amazing guided walks. We were advised to find a nice taxi driver and hire him for the day to show us around. We did that and it was the best way.
8. China 1990.
Back in 1990, there were some really cheap package deals to China following the Tiananmen Square massacre. I saw it as a great chance to see somewhere that I may never see otherwise. We booked a package with Voyages Jules Verne, who were excellent. It was a two centre holiday at Beijing and Xian. In terms of seeing stuff, it was the best holiday ever. The Terracota army was amazing. The reason it isn't no 1 is because the whole visit was tightly controlled and although we met lots of people, who were friendly, we were very much kept at arms length.
9. USSR 1989.
Clare did a degree in Russian Studies, and studied at a college in Minsk for three months. We decided to visit her friends. We booked a holiday to Moscow, Leningrad and Minsk. The USSR was fascinating and is well worth a visit. Leningrad (Now St Petersberg) was especially interesting from a sightseeing perspective. However what intrigued me were the people. A mate took me to Vilnius on the train. This was highly illegal for a foreigner from the UK, so I pretended to be a drunk Belarussian peasant. I did this well enough to fool the KGB who I shared a train carriage with. It is amazing what an effective disguise a can of beer can be! In Vilnius I met independence activists, who told me the USSR was about to crumble and that Lithuania would soon be in the EU. I was sceptical. They were right.
10. Lourdes, France.
Perhaps Lourdes should be no 1. It is the place I've been most. When I was a kid, my Dad would take me on Pilgrimage every year. My mum would go to Spain with my sisters, but my Dad hated Franco and wouldn't support a Fascist regime. He told me that when he was being shot down over Rumania in 1944 on a bombing raid, he prayed to The Virgin Mary that if he survived, he'd live a good life, so going to Lourdes was a part of this. Although he was religious, he also loved a party, so he'd pray in the morning, have lunch and a few glasses of wine, a sleep and then hit the bars. I think that's why I love pubs so much. He'd tour the bars, get into conversations with strangers. He'd give me a shandy (a glass of Lemonade with a tot of his beer). It was bliss. This stopped in 1974. In 2001, I went back with HCPT as a helper with a group of people with disabilities. It was a very different experience, but I loved it. My Mum had a stroke in 2000, so it was great to be able to take her. After she passed in 2008, I took my cousin Tessie, who is my age but has Downs syndrome. The best thing is being part of a group, away from the stresses of every day life. I'd thoroughly recommend it.