Neil Fraser
Interview Words : The World According To ... | 30 July

The World According to Neil Fraser

East Londoner Neil Fraser on how he has managed to see the world and keep his passport stamp-free

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

Ocean. I miss living near the sea and I think us Brits have a strong connection inside to all that water that surrounds us.

First travel experience?

A holiday in Devon and Cornwall in what we called a 'caravanette' in the early 70s. I can barely remember it but have the photos to prove it happened.

Favourite journey?

Arriving somewhere for the first time is always exciting, especially when the weather is good.

Top five places worldwide?

As you can see I have not been the most intrepid of travellers but...

Paris – a great place for doing nothing more strenuous than strolling around and hanging about.

France – I have liked everywhere I have been in France and like their pig-headed disregard for 'progress'. Half-day closing. Wine with everything. What's not to like?

Denmark – pastries for breakfast and schnapps with your open butties. They know the way to a man's heart and hospitality is a matter of pride. It is a very hyggelig place, and besides my better-half's lovely family live in Aarhus and Copenhagen. Top tip – do not, under any circumstances eat smorrebrød in the wrong order.

Berlin – fantastic beer, sausages al fresco and great history, though not always for them.

The Lake District – if you don't know why you obviously haven't been.

Special place to stay?

The place I keep returning to is the Left Bank of Paris, around the Latin Quarter. The hotels are cheap and cheerful but the ambiance is great.

Three items you always pack?

Camera, clothes, a good book – that is begun but never finished by the end of the trip.

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

My passport is stamp-free.

Passport stamp most like to have?

Anything will do (see above).

Guilty travel pleasure?

Buying sweets in ornately decorated tins or with comedy names like Spunk.

Window or aisle?

Window on a train, aisle on a plane.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

You can't beat a bit of local knowledge, so a local companion is handy. Either that or someone with deep pockets and no sense.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

Had a great cassoulet in Brussels one winter's night. So far I haven't had a bad food experience, which must be good judgement with the menu or sheer luck.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Alsace was full of nice surprises. Chartres was a big let down, not helped by the fact that the cathedral was wrapped in scaffolding, the weather was rubbish and there wasn't much else there. Sacrilege I know, but I found the cathedral in Strasbourg more interesting.

Where do you NOT want to go?

I won't know till I get there... unfortunately.

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

I grew up in a family where travel further than to my Nan's was deemed a luxury so cheap air fares certainly played their part in changing things, it has to be said.

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

The sounds of the country I am in.

What do you read ?

I try and find something linked to the destination. A book about the country/city or a novel written by a native. Failing that just something easy to bury my head in on the plane.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity?

The German chemist who understood my intricate hand signals that indicated my travel companion back at the hotel was in dire need of something for gastric distress and when I was at a loss for the right hand signal said, “Ah...the other end!”

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

The most useful phrase in any language is usually 'thank-you'.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Finding a pub to check the football scores never goes down well with my partner.

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

Lavishly.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

Paris in the summer of 2008 when my partner and I were expecting our first child.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

Hotel soap.

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

The early 60s seems glamorous – before mass tourism and globalisation started making everywhere look the same.

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

Paris for the atmosphere, Berlin for the history, Barcelona for the weather.

Over The BorderNeil Fraser has lived in East London for 21 years, in West Ham, Barking, Stratford, and now in Leytonstone with his family. He has worked in a betting shop, a mail-order book club and is currently a teacher. Over the Border: The Other East End is his first book and is available on amazon now.

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