‘Without travel, life is rather mundane’

David Murphy.David Murphy.

Name: David Murphy
Age: 64
Occupation: Artist, writer and retired judge

I started travelling…

When I was 17 my aunt, who was a very sophisticated and experienced traveller, took me on a two-month summer trip around Britain and continental Europe.

Had it not been for that eye-opening and life-changing experience, I would not have been adventurous enough to go to Britain to do graduate studies (at the London School of Economics) in 1971-1972 and to travel across Europe and the Soviet Union that year; or to travel widely during my professional life; or to leave my partnership and relocate to teach in Asia; or to retire early to travel (based on Gozo).

My father died too young and was denied a chance to retire and travel. I was determined that that would not happen to me.

I felt most relaxed in…

I nearly drowned floating through two rapids on the Zambezi River, trapped under an overturned steel raft

I was thoroughly relaxed, ironically, living and working in one of the most frenetic of the world’s cities – Hong Kong.

It is also the world’s most interesting cities with the most to offer in terms of excitement, ­cuisine, entertainment, sophistication and variety. All of Asia made me relaxed and ­welcome.

I always liked beach holidays, such as in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, but my favourites were Tioman Island, Malaysia and Koh Samui, Thailand.

I feared for my life in…

I’ve been fortunate to be safe most of the time, considering the strange and off-the-beaten-track places I have visited on six continents.

I was attacked by a gang of youths in Panama City. I fought them off and saved my wallet (losing only a camera) and dished out a couple of broken noses in the bargain. I don’t recommend this strategy, though, for seasoned and sensible travellers.

In 2004 I missed being in the middle of the Atocha Station train bombings in Madrid only because I made a last-minute train switch that morning.

I nearly drowned floating through two rapids on the Zambezi River, trapped under an overturned steel raft. Don’t do that rafting adventure; it’s a lot more dangerous than advertised.

Some amusing anecdotes…

In Xian in the remote northwest of China, I seemed to be the only Caucasian in the downtown area. I was good-naturedly haggling in a street with a vendor selling jewellery and only later noticed that the incident had attracted a crowd of at least 300 people around me.

I was arrested briefly in a Chinese museum for supposedly paying too little for a book, only to be released when the museum director recognised me from a book I had written on art and law.

In Yangan, the capital of Myanmar, during the Water Festival I managed to stay dry all day till ambushed by a jovial crowd throwing water bombs. I dried out sitting in the bar of the famous Strand Hotel.

My favourite art travel experiences…

I love to spend time in art museums. They are the first stops for me in each city anywhere in the world. I especially like impressionist, post-impressionist and expressionist art.

Leading museums for me are the Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, the Neue Pinakothek in Munich (fabulous city for art as well as beer!), and the Buhrle Collection in Zurich. But it’s great to discover some ‘sleepers’ some guidebooks miss, like the Troyes Museum of Modern Art in France, the Fondation Bemberg in Toulouse, and the Galerije Umjetnina in Split, Croatia.

I enjoy returning to…

I was an early traveller to the Soviet Union in 1972 when tourism was in its infancy. I was blown away by Leningrad then, and even more so by St Petersburg when I had a chance to go back just a few years ago (and spend three days in the Hermitage Museum). In the early days of travel in the USSR tourists were carefully shepherded by government ‘guides’, but in our case, when the guides weren’t looking, we scattered like kittens released from a box, and did our own thing.

Some sobering moments…

I have been in four concentration camps in Germany and Eastern Europe. It’s impossible to erase from your mind the images in the photograph boards scattered through the huge area of Birkenau.

In Prague I viewed an exhibition of artwork by very young Jewish children in a nearby concentration camp. The art survived but none of the children did.

I was good-naturedly haggling in a street with a vendor selling jewellery and only later noticed that the incident had attracted a crowd of at least 300

After that I had to go to a nearby park and sit by myself for a very long time. The illustrated guide to that exhibition is a prize in my art book collection.

I adored the food in…

I’m not too interested in fine cuisine when I travel; I’m more interested in the circumstances and context. I like Thai food eaten off a bamboo table on an Asian beach. I like taking a junk to Lamma Island in Hong Kong (location of the recent ferry tragedy) for seafood.

In 1972 I had a wonderful meal for about $2 in a square in Madrid. It was magical at the time. Sadly I’ve never been able to find that place since. But nowadays Casa Alberto in Calle Huertas is a good substitute.

Simple food experiences can be the best. I missed a train in the Czech Republic and had to get off at a remote rail junction. I went into a hut full of railway workers and got a fresh loaf of bread, some delicious peasant garlic soup and a huge cold beer. That made my day.

My sporting experiences…

Sometimes I golf on trips. Over the years I have golfed in the shadow of the Pyramids in Egypt, hit a ball into a barbecue pit in Fiji, and hit a water buffalo in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka, where the tee was actually in the local ­market. In China my golf partner and I were asked to be extras in a fashion shoot on the local course.

I partied hardest in…

Not at my age now! I check out what operas or classical concerts are on. I stood through five hours of Parsifal at the opera house in Vienna once, and it was so brilliant that I didn’t notice the time.

Recently I sat in the main square in Krakow, Poland, listening to a fabulous group playing everything from old Jewish folk songs to pop. The lead singer was a teenager, and the backing musicians were all over 70!

My favourite local hangout…

Definitely Xerris in Qala. I love the pizza, views and cheap wine. I painted a picture of the terrace area overlooking the Gozo Channel. It hangs in the dining room. Check it out.

I travel because…

Without the variety of experiences serious travel provides, life is really rather mundane.

How lucky am I to have been to one of the least-known, yet most spectacular Buddhist complexes, the 9th century Borobudur in Java, with its miles of carved walls. Or to have chatted with locals in African villages. Or to have taken pack horses and spent 10 days riding and camping through the Rockies with friends. Or just to have sat in a Paris cafe and watched the world go by.


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