‘Travelling for sheer unadulterated fun’
Name: Tony Cassar Darien
Occupation: Arts commentator
My best holiday ever…
In Sicily at 63 years of age. There I was in a foreign country with no contracts to negotiate or reports to write. It suddenly dawned on me that travelling for sheer unadulterated fun was possible. For a retired career-fixated workaholic, this was a blissful awareness of the possibilities of life in the twilight zone.
I would never return to…
Nigeria. Lagos in the early 1970s was super-filthy. Even the main streets had open drains and men and women could be seen relieving themselves in canals dug alongside the roads.
Ugly, creepy-looking bats took to the streets after sunset, scuffling and scraping for morsels. I was told some species attacked humans if they felt threatened.
Traffic was downright chaotic and street-sellers and children clung to you for dear life if they sensed they could flog you their bogus wares.
The most dangerous place I visited…
Well-known writer-director Branco Brasovic, who helmed the Eurokraz Festival, renowned for its experimental theatre, insisted I see his latest play which had just opened in Macedonia. He arranged my flight from Zagreb to Skopje and a car that would drive me to Bitola, at the far end of the country.
Having landed at the very quiet airport in Skopje, a man with a moustache beckoned me to follow him. As I was following him to a presumably waiting car, I noticed a man running into the airport with paper in hand on which I could just make out my printed name.
I naturally called out to the running man. And that’s when the man with the moustache took flight. Apparently kidnapping foreigners for ransom was a thriving business.
Calmness soon prevailed, however, as the car’s radio blared out Desire, Claudette Pace’s Eurovision entry, giving the chauffeur an opportunity to show off his English saying: “Nice, nice, Malta, nice.”
My favourite city…
Weimar. It’s reckoned there are five bookshops to every butcher in the city which housed Goethe and Schiller – a veritable cultural mecca. Barely a day goes by without some festival, concert or touring show featuring international artists taking place. The busy opera house is a model of cultural management. Population? 65,000.
My most memorable experience on an aircraft…
A sweet lady handed me a sealed tin biscuit box. Her son was a Maltese priest serving in Ibadan. Could I please pass it on to him?
Being just like the girl in the song who can’t say no, I found myself in Lagos asking how to get to my destination. It was the rainy season and trains and roads were difficult and unreliable. But I was told that a nice man could fly me there on a nice day.
I ended up in an old glider, sitting among boxes and cages filled with livestock at the mercy of a singing, chain-smoking pilot. Very many hours later I handed the box to the priest. It contained Malta-made blood sausages.
My most treasured holiday souvenir…
Stones that take my fancy. With a piece of ‘earth’ in my hand I can pretend I’ve taken home part of the country!
My biggest gaffe abroad…
At a posh party in Tel Aviv when I desperately needed to relieve myself. I thought I was aiming directly at the urinal only to discover that I wasn’t. When my eyes slowly shifted to the right I discovered… well, it starts to get too embarrassing to relate from then on!
The friendliest people…
People from Australia are so laid-back, just like the Irish. I recall a Dublin hawker who left his stand to ask if he could be of assistance after watching me struggle with a map. Apparently it was upside down.
Nothing beats the good American when showing off his territory. The Germans are delighted to find you in their beer gardens and the English at a football stadium love you like a long-lost brother.
In fact, where have all the unfriendly people gone? Protesting against the euro along with the friendly people, I guess!
I never travel without…
The taxi ride I will never forget…
I formed part of a trade delegation in Moscow planned to coincide with ex-President Agatha Barbara’s attendance at the state funeral of Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev.
Having either been students at the same colleges or having participated in MDC initiatives, there was great camaraderie among the delegates.
Of course, some were naughtier than others. On the last day there was quite a buzz as some of our colleagues had concluded some good deals.
After a somewhat boisterous dinner we split into two taxis, knowing little about what our two ring-leaders had plotted for the night. Plying the taxi drivers with bourbon and American dollars, they persuaded them to race their two taxis.
The winning taxi driver was promised a bonus if his taxi placed first after going twice around the Kremlin.
It was much later when the vodka-induced mental mist must have lifted that we became fully aware of the mad experience, which seemed as if it was lifted from those Fast and Furious movies.
An unforgettable hotel…
I was assisting Ambassador John Lowell and Corinthia Group chairman Alfred Pisani on a business trip with cultural overtones.
At one point, Mr Lowell and I were accommodated in this isolated dacha in Romania which had been the summer residence of Nicolae Ceausescu.
It was sheer opulence. Not even the grandest of Hollywood sets could match its lavishness. The bathrooms were the size of tennis courts and all covered with marble and lapis lazuli, while the appliances were solid gold. Yet it felt so cold and forbidding!
I return most often to…
Australia, to query why God was so benevolent when dishing out gifts.
My ideal travel companion…
A radio, my lifelong friend. I’m gaga about sound broadcasting. Apart from all things musical, you learn stuff about the country you don’t get from anywhere else.
A typical night-listening session in Washington state includes segments about Cougar football games against archrivals Huskies from Seattle, somebody listing ‘the endless parade of clowns we elect to Congress and the Senate’, a nice lady sharing her prize-winning apple pie recipe, Washington’s latest tax-and-spend proposals, someone advocating gay marriage and, if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on which side of the fence you sit on), Michael Moore exposing the ‘evils’ of corporate America and asking his listeners to provide names of local conservatives he should call to harass.
Country with best cuisine…
I am not that fussy and always prepared to indulge in the indigenous grub. Sometimes I pay the price. With interest.
My next holiday plans…
I can’t divulge that. It might put pressure on the Prime Minister to call an election.
My dream trip…
All round Australia by train. Australia is so big that most people would prefer to fly across it, even if it means missing out on the magical scenery.
Trans-continental trains are now a reality. A friend has done Sydney to Perth and described it as “ecstatic”. And I believe that one can then get a train to Darwin and down to Brisbane. And the experience has been described as akin to being on the Orient Express (without bumping into Poirot and his accompanying corpses).
I partied hardest in…
It was a most amazing night. I don’t think it could ever be replicated in my lifetime. The Australian Millennium celebrations focused on Sydney as the city which was to host the 2000 Olympic Games in September.
The most extravagant fireworks displays lighted the New Year’s Eve sky and from the Lord Mayor’s Ball at the Opera House to Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay and the Chinese Garden, it was one big lavish party.
When at dawn we made it back to Castle Hill, the street parties were still swinging. When it comes to partying, the Aussies are sure hard to beat.
My travel trip…
Be prepared to change the best laid plans at the merest whim.