The World According to Alan Ogden

Eastern European historian and travel writer Alan Ogden on the joys of sampling local hooch

4 mins

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

Mountain and jungle – as a Moniteur Guide d’Été with the French Chasseurs Alpines and a British Army Jungle Warfare Instructor, I’m really happy in both these environments!

First travel experience?

Sailing aged two to the US on The Queen Mary.

Favourite journey?

Criss-crossing the Ukraine by train. Never a dull moment.

Top five places worldwide?

Greece, Zimbabwe, Central Asia, Transylvania and Turkey.

Special place to stay?

Rasca Monastery in Romania. Pure peace and spiritual refreshment.

Three items you always pack?

Notebook, sketchbook and a torch.

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

France 1964 – my first journey abroad on my own.

Passport stamp you'd most like to have?


Guilty travel pleasure?

Sampling the local hooch.

Window or aisle?

Window – I’m good at reading the ground from the air.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

Sadly travel writing is rather a solitary occupation, so one is best alone. That said, Tony Hawks sounds like he would be huge fun to travel with.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

Piping hot Hungarian goulash in a red enamel pot outside Budapest. Worst – frozen fish on a plate in Cluj, Romania.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Odessa – astonishing sophisticated city on Black sea; Jeddah – the old town has sadly virtually gone.

Where do you NOT want to go?

South America – I’m too old to learn the languages!

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

Loads – R.L.Stevenson, Colonel Fawcett, Wilfred Thesiger, Gavin Maxwell, Bill Tilman, Sacherverell Sitwell, Osbert Lancaster, Colin Thubron, Hammond Innes. I’ve been devouring travel books since the age of ten and show no sign of stopping!

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

I never listen to music on the road. There is too much to see/write about and even better to engage in conversations. But I do search out live music.

What do you read?

I try to read as much about a country before I go. When I’m there, I like to read novels set in the country e.g. Miklos Banffy’s Transylvania Trilogy.

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

I am lucky in that I seem to meet wonderful human beings the whole time. I feel humbled by most of them. Dan Marin comes to mind – he reinvented himself from a factory worker into the best wildlife guide in Romania.

Just occasionally an over officious policeman or security guard makes me despair.

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

Merci. It works nearly everywhere!

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Sticking to the timetable. I know I would be better off dawdling more often.

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

Read to them from Procopius’s Secret Lives of Byzantium – that would take their minds off the cold!

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

I have been to the Peloponnese in Greek for the last four years and it is hard to think of more happy times – Greek hospitality is always so generous. The Greeks are so courteous, the countryside captivating and of course every day is a history lesson.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

The exotic culinary airs that waft around Istanbul’s Golden Horn, mixing Africa, the Levant and the Black Sea – sometimes I get a whiff in Ozer’s Restaurant in London and feel it’s time to pack.

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

Early 20th century – it must have been so exciting driving/flying in the 1920s and 30s. It was such a novel way to travel that one American wrote a book called Romania through a car window!

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

Paris for its perfection, Istanbul for its exoticism and Sydney for its modernity.


A Spur Called CourageAlan Ogden is an acknowledged authority on Romania and he has written four travelogues on the country. His latest book, A Spur Called Courage, details the exploits of Special Operations Executive [SOE] officers in Italy during WWII and is available on Amazon now.


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