For you, what are some of the highlights of the upcoming river trips you’re joining?
With so many fascinating places to visit, it’s hard to pinpoint my favorites! On the Danube, it has to be Vienna. Like a catchy waltz tune, the city always makes my heart beat faster, with its extraordinary musical legacy, grand baroque architecture, and world-class galleries and museums. I also love the natural hot spring baths of Budapest; and how the journey moves from Central to West Europe, ending in Bavaria—my second home for several years.
The Rhine cruise is a truly epic journey, from the intimate waterways of Strasbourg’s quaint old town to the celebrated canals of Amsterdam. I’m always struck by the number of castles and fortresses en route; the picture-perfect villages with their half-timbered houses; and the sheer scale of the Gothic cathedral in Cologne. This is also very much a trip for wine lovers, with plenty of opportunities to taste the wines of the Alsace, Rhine, and Mosel regions.
Tell us about one of your favorite National Geographic experiences.
Last summer I travelled in the open-air carriage at the back of the Bernina Express—the highest mountain railway in Switzerland—while leading National Geographic’s Swiss Trains and the Italian Lake District expedition. It looped, twisted, and tunneled through the high alps of Graubünden; past flower-filled meadows of grazing cows, ice-blue lakes, and glistening glaciers; and over the Bernina pass. The route is an incredible feat of Swiss engineering, and a thrilling ride in a normal carriage—let alone an open-air one! It’s of little wonder the railway was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008—it is a breathtaking journey.
What do you enjoy most about traveling by ship?
All my life I’ve been messing about on boats—sailing, windsurfing, and holidaying on our family houseboat—so I always feel very at home on the water. Despite being a travel writer for the past 30 years, I’ve never quite mastered the art of packing light. So this mode of transport really suits me, as my hotel room simply comes along with me. I also love those still dawns on the river, with early morning mists and wildlife sightings, before the rest of the world wakes up. And finally, I always appreciate the sundowners on deck after an engaging day of sightseeing.
What fuels your passion for travel?
I feel there’s too much emphasis on material items these days, and that people would be better off spending time and money seeing the world; immersing themselves in new cultures; and gaining new experiences, tastes, and a sense of adventure. As the world continues to globalize, I feel greater cultural sensitivity is increasingly important. Henry Miller wrote: “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of seeing things.” Some of my greatest experiences in life have happened when I’ve gone out of my comfort zone while traveling—backpacking around Japan, dogsledding through Russia in the winter, and powerboat racing in the South Pacific all spring to mind as highlights. One thing is for certain: the more I travel, the greater my wanderlust.
What is one of your favorite travel memories?
Jaguar trekking in Guyana, South America with members of the Makushi Amerindian tribe stands out. We were travelling by dugout canoe through the jungle by day, cooking on an open fire and trekking by night, and then sleeping in hammocks under the dense canopy, lulled to sleep by an orchestra of insects and howler monkeys.