Travelling With Tom Sweeney
I’m pretty sure I don’t need to introduce you to travel writer, Tom Sweeney, as no doubt you’ve read his travel adventures in newspapers and magazines over the years. I met Tom over a year ago. I was new on the scene and at my first media lunch. I felt like it was my first day at school and I was the new girl nobody really wanted to talk to.
Tom arrived in a whirlwind of laughs and warm embraces. On being introduced, I was relieved to see he wasn’t looking over my shoulder to see who else was about. Instead, he stood, drink in hand, recounting his adventures in Istanbul, where he’d just flown in from. He made me laugh and inspired me to put Istanbul at the top of my ‘must see’ list. He also put me at my ease, for which I’ll be eternally grateful.
That’s Tom. He’s funny, kind and warm and has a life-time of adventures to tell you about. Stories that will inspire you to travel and see the world through his eyes. And that’s why I thought you’d want to hear his travel tips, because I certainly do!
Over to Tom.
Q: What has been your best travel adventure and why?
TS: A three-country trip that took in Taba Heights and the Sinai Desert in Egypt; Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel; and Petra in Jordan — three remarkable countries with distinct cultures steeped in centuries of history in the space of nine days. I went back to Petra last year and was blown away again. If you visit one amazing, unforgettable place in the Middle East, make it Jordan, where you can also float (it’s impossible to sink) in the Dead Sea, which is the weirdest sensation.
Q: What are the 3 things you cannot travel without?
TS: My iPhone, iPad and cameras.
Q: What is your favourite country to visit and why?
TS: Poland, and to be more precise, Krakow. I’ve been there 26 times in three years, and that also makes it my favourite city. It’s magnificent. Almost uniquely among Polish cities, the medieval old town (a World Heritage Site) escaped destruction at the hands of the Nazis, though tragically, the Jewish population did not. I love the Poles: they’re warm and welcoming, so helpful, and most speak great English (I have a Polish pal whose English is so posh you’d think, if you closed your eyes, it was Queen Elizabeth speaking). The food is outstanding and the beer is €2 a pint. But it’s the people who make Poland my favourite country. I can’t wait to go again soon.
Q: You have one week in one hotel, where would you choose?
TS: The parador at the Alhambra in Granada, converted from a convent built in the 15th century. I lived in Spain for 11 years and never missed the opportunity to visit Granada. When I could afford it, I always stayed there, but I had to book months in advance as it’s Spain’s most popular parador. I once stayed at the nearby Washington Irving Hotel (Irving wrote Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) having made a reservation over the phone. When I arrived to sign the register, the reception had me down as Señor Swine!
Q: What are your top five travel tips?
TS: 1. Learn hello, please and thank you in the language of the country you’re visiting 2. Engage with the locals and your experience will be all the richer 3. Don’t, whatever you do, invade people’s privacy and poke a camera in their face, that’s the height of rudeness 4. Compile a packing checklist, keep it on your computer desktop and print it out before each trip. Tick off the items (phone and camera chargers especially) on the list as they go into your bag. 5. Get lost. I mean it — read the guidebooks, see the popular sights, throw away the guidebooks and go wandering.
Q: You’ve just won the lotto, what holiday are you going to book?
TS: That’s easy — I’m going back to Australia. I’ve been there three times, but only for a month at a time. With my bagful of lottery money, I’m going for a year to see everything I didn’t have the time to see before. It’s a huge country full of amazing sights, both natural and man-made, but I’m thinking even a year might not be enough. Everyone should visit Australia (Melbourne is my favourite city there).
Q: What’s your favourite pastime when you’re not travelling?
TS: Writing about my travels! I get almost as much enjoyment from thumbing through my notebooks and editing the photos I’ve taken and then getting down to work on the laptop. Writing’s a lonely business, but when you’re immersed in all those notes and photos, you’re on your travels again and all the sights and sounds and smells come back to life. And when I’m not writing, I love reading books of other people’s travel adventures — preferably on a high stool with a glass in front of me!
Q: What is it that you love about travelling?
TS: The people I meet. Bricks and mortar buildings and hewn stone structures are all very well; nature’s wonders never fail to amaze me; but good old down to earth, friendly people always make a place for me. It doesn’t matter if neither of you speaks the other’s language, because a smile and a nod or a little bow is sometimes all the communication you need.
A big thank you to Tom for taking the time to write about some of his favourite places and experiences. Tom has an impressive list of titles to his name (see below) and a fantastic blog you have to check out. You can also follow him on twitter – @scottishtom