Martyn Andrews
Interview Words : The World According To ... | 14 May

The World According to Martyn Andrews

TV presenter from Liverpool has visited over 550 cities and towns. And played on Tchaikovsky’s childhood piano in Central Russia.

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean. Which are you?

I’d probably say I am all four. Although I am the same character on and off screen, there are several different aspects of my personality – some that many people don’t see. At times, I am like the raging sea, being the loudest person in the room, entertaining everyone. But at other times, I feel like I could be compared to a desert in the middle of nowhere.  I can be quite still and calm, reflecting on the past, covering “things” beneath me. As for jungles and mountains – my life is dramatic, chaotic, fun, eventful and over the top, so I’d say that includes them too! My passion for adventure will never go away ...

First travel experience?

Apart from my childhood summer holidays, my first big trip was when I was 19 and I went to Paris with my housemate, Zoe. I was living in Wood Green, North London, studying at Mountview Theatre School. We took a cheap weekend return flight with BA. We had no money to go - so we budgeted around five pounds food allowance a day!

On board the plane, we chatted up the cabin crew who gave us bags of wine for the weekend. After arriving at 10pm on the Friday night, we walked for eight hours, seeing the various sights, before falling asleep under the Eiffel Tower. Romantic – and it saved on accommodation!

We got a shabby hotel for the next night. Problem was, following a full day of more activities and walking, we fell asleep at 7pm only to wake up 6am on the Sunday morning! We’d missed the whole night! I learned a lot about travel time management on that holiday!

Favourite journey?

My most memorable recent trip was overland from Panama to Acapulco. Drama and luck followed me around and everyday something happened. Crazy, but great fun. I will always stay positive regarding any travel problems. My number one rule - laughter!

The trip had everything – lost phones, aerial runways over volcanic craters, lost luggage, hotels that didn’t exist, the cheapest lobster I’ve had in my life in El Salvador, almost missing planes, food poisoning in Mexico, being involved in a shoot out in Nicaragua (I thought it was a firework show) and running away from paying the bill in one restaurant in Acapulco. 

I should point out that I wanted to pay the bill. But HSBC had just cancelled all my credit cards for the 7th time. I'd travelled through so many central American countries that their computers kept automatically blocking them. I understand the reason why UK banks do it, but it was a real pain in the neck.

That aside it was one of the best travel adventures of my life. Sensational Central America!!

Top 5 places worldwide?

The Great Wall of China. Breathtaking. Wow. I never realised how long it is (nearly 8000 kilometres!). And it's not built on gentle rolling hills, either. It's on a mountain range. In parts the wall is almost vertical and nearly impossible to walk.

Second, Moscow. The most misunderstood city in the world. It’s now a new city of development, neon lights, skyscrapers, cocktails and fantastic restaurants. It’s chic, glamorous and there’s a real buzz to the Russian capital now. Go!

Next up, New York and Manhattan, I’ve lived there a few times and it’s the party city of the world. If you haven’t been there you haven’t lived.

Fourth? Easy - Machu Picchu, in Peru. What a glorious experience that was, took days to get there, planes, trains, buses, hiking. What a sight it is! Overwhelming.

Finally, I'd like to nominate good old London. Although the weather is bad, public transport is extortionate and the government is crazy, it has the best shopping and theatre in the world!

Special place to stay?

My Cyprus pad in Paphos! I try and get there every few months to escape the madness (and rain or snow) of Moscow and London, where I also live.

If I had to nominate a hotel,  my week in the penthouse in the Bellagio in Las Vegas was quite a treat too! Best of all, I didn't pay!

3 items you always pack?

I always take expensive scented, coloured candles wherever I go - they can make any room look nice in the dark!

I also always take Molton Brown bathroom products, a little indulgence means a lot when travelling. Think home from home. (I seriously should have shares in the stuff). 

Finally, my own pillow. People give me strange looks at the airport but they are soon jealous once they see how comfortable I am! I sleep like a log on planes and rarely get jet lag.

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

So hard to choose from: Singapore, Chile, Vietnam, Australia, Hawaii, Nicaragua, Argentina, South Africa, India, Armenia, Japan. But I'll say China because the visa was so difficult to get! Because I am a journalist I had to go  to the embassy five times  to convince them I was going just for tourism.

Can I I also mention, that I find it so annoying that European countries don’t stamp EU passports anymore? That was a fun part of travelling.

Passport stamp most like to have?

North Korea! I’d love to go there. I went to South Korea last year and found the culture there so interesting. Of course, north of the border it’s a whole different world. I did a lot of programmes on post Soviet Russia, so the modern day communist countries are really a journalists dream. I doubt they’d let me in!

Guilty travel pleasure?

Going on personal holidays. I try to force myself to stay in one country for more than a few weeks, but I always end up going for lots of long weekends instead! Bosnia, Poland, Morocco etc. 

My mum says – “Don’t you just want to sit still son?” My answer? I won’t be happy until I’ve visited every major city in the world. I’m three quarters of the way there!

What do you read ?

I read newspapers, magazines, travel books, iPhone news apps and the odd paperback autobiography. On vacations I do like to read books though, on people's personal lives, rags to riches stories, business success tales, that sort of thing.They inspire me to never to give up in the competitive world of TV!

Window or aisle?

Window always! Ideally sat in the front of the plane on the right hand side!  I have to see where I am flying over – mountain ranges, coastlines, oceans.

One suggestion I'd make is to work out which side gives the best view. For example, when flying into Aguazu Falls in Argentina, all guide books suggest you sit on the right side of the plane when arriving and the left hand side of the plane when leaving. You will have the most incredible views!

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

Funnily enough, apart from my best friends Zoe or Bonita, it is my small travel mascot called Candyfloss. A small stuffed white lama haired toy I bought in the mountains of Peru. She has her own Facebook page now with over 150 cities that she has visited! Like!

Best meal on the road? Worst?

My best meal on the road has to be an Uzbek “Shashlik” (a meat skewered barbecue) I had at a roadside cafe in Bashkortostan once. WOW. I was filming my series on extreme Russia and the crew and I stopped in this random place. We ended up buying the whole lot and I bought a litre of this homemade spicy tomato sauce. It was the tastiest thing I’ve had in my life. Throw in some bouncy home-made lavash bread – it was just glorious!

The worst has to be in China. Duck beaks, stewed turtle, fried frog, horse hoof, evil bitter vegetables, decayed duck on toast, fat, oil, oil, fat – talk about a wok on the wild side!  I ate plain rice for days. I will eat most things but it’s a different world there. They have a different palate, full stop.

Where do you NOT want to go?

I have to be brutally honest here and mention that I think some of the old run down seaside resorts in the UK are just horrible, especially in the rain. The sticky rock candy and old fashioned "kiss me quick" culture from the 1960’s – some places just haven’t moved on.

Elsewhere, some Soviet cities in central Russia are depressing – grey, concrete and simply crumbling to pieces. 

As for places I haven’t been, the cities in Mexico ravaged by drug wars and the pirate-ridden tribal communities of Somalia aren't on my must-visit list. Nor is the North pole in the winter. I’ve had my fair share of filming in minus 40. Torture ...

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

My worse habit has to be buying postcards the second I land somewhere. I send at least 15 postcards from every single city I visit. My friends and family have hundreds of the things!

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

Probably going on a private jet with a Russian oligarch's wife. (George Clooney had hired it from her the day before!) Everyone dreams of flying on a private jet, don’t they?

Oh, and having dinner in Athens surrounded by two tables of Interpol police because one of Media moguls I was with, was under "border arrest". Long story, but how cool! Earpieces and security galore! My life was suddenly out of James Bond movie! I’ve had hundreds of happy memories but that was up there with the most dramatic!

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

By getting a satellite phone and booking a helicopter out of there to a warm sunny destination. I have spent so many months filming freezing TV shows in minus 20 to minus 40 that it just wouldn’t be entertaining. Songs, cards, games, activities aside – I would choose sun and warmth any day!

What's the most impressive / useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

That one is easy. “Can I have a beer please!” I can actually order alcoholic drinks in over 12 languages! Not bad and certainly needed on crazy trips around the world!

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

If I’m honest, the smell of fly spray, grubby luggage, stale cabin air or  sweat – it’s not all glamorous!

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?

I always buy local jazz or national music wherever I go. I bought the best music when I was in Jakarta two years ago. Great stuff! All my friends want copies. I also bought a CD of a local Brazilian singer when I was in Salvador a few months back. Problem is whenever I listen to it – it means I must have a cocktail in hand too! Cue the drumbeats!

In regards to general travel, Gloria Estefan has become my travel soundtrack for some reason. Although slightly random I think it’s because her ballads are quite sensitive and emotional. Travelling always makes me quite spiritual and makes me evaluate life, fate etc. Then on the flip side her energetic dance tracks like “Congo”, “1,2,3” and “Rhythm is Gonna Get” etc have that real holiday Latino dance feel about them! Party time!

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

I have met various people who have touched my soul over my years of travelling. From people really going out of my way and helping me to local people who have taken me into their homes like I was a member of their own families.

I will never forget the late lunch I had one afternoon with a family in El Salvador. They cooked ten gigantic lobsters and we sat in the warm yellow sun overlooking the sea and laughed as we tried to communicate.

In regard to people who have lost my faith sure I’ve had things stolen, was mugged in Barcelona, had an expensive jacket pinched in New York, have met some rude, obnoxious staff etc. But I rise above it. My life is full of positivity and amazing experiences. What comes around goes around.  I try to let anything negative not affect me. I normally laugh off any misfortune. Life is too short.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Most surprising AND disappointing place was Rio. I went there for a month this January. But left after a week and moved up to Salvador the old capital I hated Rio. I was so expensive you pay for five star and you received two star service and facilities. Many locals agree its saturated and the exchange rate has crippled Brazil. Where was the glamour?

The hotels were around 150 pound a night and were worse than a Blackpool Bed and Breakfast. The weather too was so on and off – rain, rain, rain. Queues for hours outside nightclubs and once inside you are met with a strange Soviet-type method where you can't pay the barman money for the drink – so in other words you queue twice. Once for the kiosk/kasse and again for the drink. Tedious.

The GDP in Rio is gaining momentum every year and that’s great, but the city and the standards of society and culture needs to keep up with that. Moscow is developing and expensive yes, Shanghai, Mumbai Dubai too – but at least you will see incredible restaurants there and pay for what you get. Considering Rio has so many worldwide events coming up - I was amazed hardly anyone spoke English and that service was dreadful everywhere! Plastic seats and low key juice bars. That was it.

If Rio wants to put itself on the world wide map then the city needs worldwide standards. The city was grubby, dirty, dangerous and there were beggars everywhere. Copacabana beach was OK but overcrowded and the water dirty. The Christ the Redeemer statue is fine for half an hour but apart from that I was so disappointed. I adore Latin America too!

Miss it and go to Buenos Aires instead – now that’s a city! Fabulous, cheap, amazing tango, restaurants, steak and red wine! Go!

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

I can honestly say the answer to that question would be “now,” 2012. 40 years ago we didn’t have the planes we have today. Getting on a 747 for me is like taking a bus.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, what would they be?

Easy. London, New York and Buenos Aires. (Can I throw in a bit of Moscow too, please?)

Martyn Andrews originally from Liverpool, UK is a TV presenter and journalist who has written and hosted dozens of travel shows on a range of English speaking networks around the world. From an extreme travel series on Russia, to undiscovered Egypt and dangerous diving, he has seen more countries than the royal family and has more lives than a cat.

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