Go Away With … John Preston

By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Content Agency
April 19, 2016

Author John Preston resides in London, England. Having traveled the world, he says that trips become more meaningful when you don’t set unrealistic expectations.

“People often have this strange idea that if you go on holiday, you’ll leave all your problems behind,” says the 62-year-old author of “The Dig” (Other Press, $16.95). “You won’t, of course, and you may well find yourself with more time than usual to brood on them. It’s best not to set your sights too high, and simply bask in the unfamiliarity of it all.”

Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?

A. Although I haven’t been there as much as I’d like, it’s got to be Goa in India. It’s got a combination of beauty, exoticism, cheap booze and fantastic food that I have never found elsewhere.

Q. To someone who was going there for the first time, what would you recommend that they do during their visit?

A. Bicycle. Goa is fantastic for cycling. Best of all, you can go for miles along the coast riding on the hard sand by the water’s edge, then stopping off every so often at one of the many cafes and restaurants along the way. There are few more exhilarating ways of spending a day.

Q. What untapped destination should people know about?

A. I’m a big fan of the Mountains of the Moon, which straddle the border between Uganda and Rwanda. It’s where for centuries the source of the Nile was reputed to be and where Mohammed thought the Garden of Paradise was. It’s also one of the few places in the world where something called the phenomenon of gigantism occurs. Essentially, this means that plants that normally grow to about a height of six inches grow much, much higher — often to several feet — so you get this extremely strange, unearthly looking landscape.

Q. What was the first trip you took as a child? And did you love it … or not so much?

A. My parents weren’t that big on holidays, but when I was a child they lived in Northern Cyprus. I loved being there and I’ve been back several times since. It’s still an almost-forgotten corner of the Mediterranean — much less touristy than the Greek half and with far fewer visitors. But there are some amazing crusader castles and beautiful deserted beaches. For many years it had the strange distinction of being one of the few places in the world that British criminals couldn’t be extradited from. As a result, you still stand a good chance of running into some very unusual residents.

Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you’re on the road?

A. I eat, drink and misbehave in the — fairly — confident assumption that no one will ever know about it.

Q. Have you traveled to a place that stood out so much that you felt compelled to incorporate it into your work?

A. My novel, “The Dig,” is based on an archaeological excavation that took place in East Anglia in England in the summer of 1939. I’d never been to East Anglia before I wrote the book and I found it strangely compelling. The landscape tends to be very flat and, ostensibly, a bit dull. But you soon find that it has this mysterious, haunting quality. It’s one of those places that people keep being drawn back to, often without really meaning to.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?

A. My wife and I have a house in Somerset in the West Country, so we usually head down there. It’s one of the few parts of southern England that is still fairly wild and woolly. In other words, you don’t feel as if someone sneaks out and carefully combs the grass every night.

Q. What are your five favorite cities?

A. Rome, Paris, London, Lisbon, Sofia (Bulgaria).

Q. Where have you traveled to that most reminded you of home?

A. Probably Ireland. It’s like a rainier, grayer, even gloomier version of England.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. Plenty of books, a bottle of Scotch so that I don’t have to pay exorbitant mini-bar prices and a cafetiere so I can have a decent cup of coffee the next morning.

Q. What would be your dream trip?

A. I’ve always had a hankering to go to Antarctica, although I have a suspicion that it might be one of those places that’s best visited in the imagination.

Q. What is your best and/or worst vacation memory?

A. Four years ago, my wife and I went skiing with our two children who, at the time, were six and five. I’d never skied before and thought I had better take lessons. On our first day, I was skiing along a completely flat piece of ground at around walking pace when I suddenly fell over, snapped the main tendon in my left arm and spent the rest of the week in an Austrian hospital ward with two of the world’s loudest snorers on either side of me.

Q. Where is the most romantic destination?
A. Again, I’m going for Goa, largely because it was the first long-haul flight I went on with my then-girlfriend. She’s now my wife.

Q. What are your favorite hotels?
A. We’ve got two young – or youngish – children, so we tend to go to hotels that have good kids’ clubs. The best we’ve found so far is the Ritz-Carlton Abama – again in Tenerife – which looks like an enormous Moorish palace, albeit with an 18-hole golf course attached. We’re now in our sixth consecutive year.

Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. Tibet.

Q. What are your favorite restaurants?
A. The Wolseley, Rules and Moro – all in London.

Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A. If I’m going to go to a city I haven’t been to before, I tend to read up on a bit of history and find out where the best art galleries are.

Q. If you’ve ever gone away for the holidays, which was the best trip?
A. Tenerife in the Canary Islands. If you live in London, Tenerife is dead easy to get to – only a four-hour flight – and the sun shines almost all the time. We went there for Christmas a couple of years ago. For anyone from the U.K., there’s something deeply weird about spending Christmas on the beach, rather than huddled around an open fire having dark thoughts about your relatives.

© 2016 JAE-HA KIM


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