In the great British film Withnail and I, a pair of out of work actors leave London and go “on holiday by mistake” to out of season Cumbria. A lovely place, but not right at the time. My personal Top Ten lists holidays, weekend breaks, and other visits to unchartered territories, that led me to believe I’d made a mistake.
Sometimes the destinations were merely not to my taste, sometimes I visited the wrong part of town – often through having a lack of time, and bad planning. I’ve even been robbed a few times (Tunis and Istanbul don’t make my top ten as they are otherwise sound cities to visit).
Apologies if your town features in my list; I’m sure Gulfport, Mississippi is a lovely place at the right time of year.
Selby, North Yorkshire
In 2018 I had an appointment with my book publisher in York and thought it’d be a good idea to spend the night in a nearby town before hitting York. The hotel was OK, and it overlooked a fairly attractive market square. Nice church too. We found a place to have a basic fish & chip lunch. So far so good.
Despite a few attractive corners we later realised this town wasn’t quite the apex. We always like to visit a few pubs before dinner, but they all looked tired and unappealing. In one, a local character appeared to be selling knock-off goods from a holdall, and in the second pub we witnessed some kind of domestic abuse scenario where a woman at the bar was accused of being a prostitute. I’ve got to say, nobody bothered us though, it was all Yorkshire charm for us tourists.
We couldn’t find anywhere decent-looking to have dinner. We ended up eating in the hotel; run by a pub chain in Luton, just twelve miles from our home. The curry was adequate, but far from the fine dining experience we were after.
The following day I told the publisher guy that we’d stayed overnight in Selby. He said “Oh dear”. I reasoned that I didn’t think you could go wrong in North Yorkshire, but he assured me you could. Our second night would be spent in York. He helpfully marked all the best pubs on a map and we made a start on York, possibly my favourite British city.
I was on a mini-road trip with my girlfriend of the time. We were both international students at Louisiana State University and we were taking a leisurely drive in a rental car from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Pensacola, Florida. Looking for somewhere to rest our heads on the drive back we ended up in Gulfport. It was a very uninspiring place, though in fairness we never got to see the bright lights of the City Centre, if there were any. I possibly confused Gulf Port, Mississippi with Gulf Shores, Alabama; which I gather is a pleasant beach resort.
Baton Rouge isn’t as glamorous as it sounds either.
*In researching Gulfport for this article it appears Gulfport has some nice beaches. In fact one website says the main beach is one of the best in all of the USA.
I was on holiday in San Diego and made a day trip to LA on the train. This was a classic case of having too little time in a big city. I’d never been to LA before and had no idea where I was going. What I saw was just OK. I didn’t think the city centre was terribly exciting, so picked a road and walked. For miles. I came across a tatty bit of green: it was MacArthur Park, as in the song. Beverly Hills looked nice. I had a five-dollar shake and somehow found the train station to get back to San Diego (my favourite American city so far).
I was 37 but had never been to Germany. I was booked on a three-week holiday in South-East Asia and my flight from London to Bangkok gave me three hours to enjoy in Frankfurt. Not nasty, just uninspiring.
At the time I didn’t realise a rainbow flag denoted a gay bar. I didn’t need to pay for my beer as a friendly local bought one for me! Ooer. It was all friendly enough, but I didn’t want to get into any unpleasant scenarios in foreign lands before I’d even left Europe: I had a whole bunch of cash on my person and I intended to have most of it on me when I arrived in Thailand. I bought the guy a beer back and exited stage left. In later years I found Dusseldorf more to my taste.
*I see the rainbow flag has been reclaimed by the NHS. Why doesn’t a rainbow flag just denote a rainbow?
Burnham on Sea, Somerset
What is it with the English and seaside towns? Any hint of sea and sand and we think we’re in a beach paradise. In fact, seaside towns are often the most deprived places in the country.
We were making a long drive in my taxi from Northampton to Devon for a week, and Burnham was the lucky town to receive us for a lunch stop. The beach at Burnham looked all right, but the town felt a bit run down. Mobility scooter is the vehicle of choice, so probably not much here for the young at heart.
Oh no, not another one. Porthmadog was somewhere to spend the night after another gruelling drive from Northampton; this time to the famous village of Portmeirion. I was a fan of the legendary 1960s TV programme, The Prisoner, and wanted to see “The Village” for myself. It didn’t disappoint.
Not a lot going on in nearby Porthmadog though. We tried to get into an Indian restaurant, but they were full. We had a tantalising whiff of the atmosphere through the open door. It’s pretty depressing when you’re denied entry to a place that’s clearly buzzing, especially when it’s accompanied by the aroma of curry. Other places were uninspiring and the town had a bit of a lacklustre feel. Before we gave up and joined the local teenagers drinking cider in bus shelters we found somewhere half decent. The hotel breakfast was probably the highlight.
You can stay on site at Portmeirion, though it’s not cheap.
Fort William, Scotland
One year we took a coach trip between Christmas and New Year. Visiting the Highlands of Scotland didn’t prove to be my best holiday decision. Fort William might have been OK, but it felt desperately out of season. The Highland Hotel had clearly seen better days.
On the third and final night we escaped the evening meal and found a curry house. All I can remember was the feeling of having escaped – rather like Number Six in the village above – and a portable heater placed in the middle of the room glowing several bars of orange. We found a good pub on the last night, so we ended on a high.
Outside town, Loch Ness was great. I was looking forward to the trip to Inverness, but everyone else on the coach wanted to visit a whisky distillery instead and I lost the vote by a landslide. For fifteen years I’ve resented being denied a trip to Inverness – particularly when I later heard an Easyjet air hostess say it was her favourite city.
The coach had to be dug out of snow on the drive back to Northampton.
My friend, Adam and I, really did come here by mistake. On holiday in Beirut in 1999 we took a bus aiming to visit the seaside town of Byblos. We missed the stop and ended up in Tripoli. There didn’t appear to be a lot for tourists, with no discernible bar and restaurant scene. We asked a passer-by to show us to a bar and we ended up in an illegal gambling den. Our hosts spoke no English but went out to buy us some beer anyway. A friendly place!
We went to Byblos the next day: it was well worth a visit.
I’d travelled quite extensively in the colourful and fascinating country of Morocco, but had never visited the beach resort of Agadir. The last resort, more like. This workaday town lacked the colour of other Moroccan cities. The beach was nice enough but there was nobody on it. It was all a bit soulless. Not a total disaster, but I wished I was back in Marrakech.
In the holiday evaluation I called Agadir Milton Keynes with a beach. Here’s another one…
There’s nothing unpleasant about Jordan’s Red Sea resort, but I couldn’t help thinking they were having more fun over the water in Israel, where we’d just come from. We were on holiday in Jerusalem, one of my favourite cities. I’m fascinated by international borders, and as a magical mystery tour for the wife I planned an overland trip to neighbouring Jordan. It involved a bus ride to Eilat, a taxi to the border, passport stamps at the crossing point, then a Jordanian taxi into downtown Aqaba.
On the taxi ride I though Aqaba looked like Milton Keynes: modern architecture, a rational road system, greenery. On closer inspection the town appeared to be half-built. The beach was OK, but it felt as if the infrastructure was still very much a work in progress, and the tourists hadn’t yet arrived. I like Arab towns, so found the centre was reasonably interesting; but I don’t recall much of a bar scene. I remember eating and drinking mainly at the Rovers Return, a Jordanian attempt at a Coronation Street-themed pub. It was like spending three days on holiday at Wetherspoons.
A visit to the capital, Amman, would probably have been more rewarding. A longer stay in the desert should definitely have been scheduled. A visit to the ancient site of Petra was the highlight, but it was all too brief. I’d visit Jordan again and do it properly.
So, that’s my Top Ten holiday mistakes. Bear in mind that this is subject to my personal tastes, and most of these places were visited many years ago. I’ve got something out of every place I’ve experienced. And just because they didn’t do it for me, it doesn’t mean you won’t like them!
Next time I’ll look at when holidays have gone right and have turned up unexpected gems.