My Travelling Life

Luxury doesn't always make for a great holiday, says actor Graham Hopkins

The actor recalls the difficulties of visiting Russia in 1991, and tells us of a road more twisty than Chapman’s Peak

28 April 2019 - 00:00 By Graham Hopkins

The first holiday I remember as a child was a beach holiday to St Francis Bay, when it was just a cluster of rondawels on Leighton Hulett's farm. My parents built a cottage there the following year and that's where we spent our family holidays for the next 30 years. It was a remote and wonderful paradise in those days. Sadly, it's very different now.
On my first trip abroad, my wife and I went to London for the first time in 1984. We also took one of those budget whistle-stop tours through Europe, which was dire, with too much time spent on an over-heated bus. But at least we saw where we wanted to return to in later years.
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Moscow and St Petersburg in 1991 were really difficult. The Soviet Union was collapsing and Russia was grey and starving. The official exchange rate was 170 rubles to the pound, but it was meaningless as there was nothing to buy in the shops - everything was traded on the black market. But we visited the Kremlin and went to the Bolshoi Ballet and toured the magnificent underground stations, where I bought a hat in a furtive deal on an escalator from a man who turned out to be a qualified electrical engineer. And then of course the fantastic Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. It was a huge adventure.
Luxury is not the most important factor. I once travelled business class on Emirates and stayed in the five-star Cairo Hilton, with luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets etc, all of it paid for by a big multi-national client for whom I was working, and I could not have been more miserable. Context and company are everything. Given the choice though, I'd rather not rough it. It really doesn't have to be the Ritz, but a comfortable bed and a hot shower are essential.My worst travel experience was driving along the famous Amalfi Drive in a hired Golf, with angry Italians in battered Fiats hooting and trying to overtake on hair-pin bends. The Amalfi Drive is half the width of Chapman's Peak and 10 times as bendy and Italian drivers are maniacs. It was terrifying and I demolished the passenger-side wing-mirror against a cliff-side.The oddest thing I've experienced while travelling happened on a train between London and Edinburgh. A man in front of me answered his phone and, after listening for a while, said: "I'm on the train to Edinburgh." It was my first encounter with a cellphone and I remember thinking "that's going to change the world". I wish I'd had the funds to buy shares in a cellular company back then.My best piece of travel advice is not to plan to do too much. Give yourself time and be spontaneous.My perfect holiday includes theatre. I once saw 11 shows in nine days in London. But I can equally enjoy a quiet family holiday in the Drakensberg with hikes and books and good food and company. A perfect holiday is a movable feast.• Hopkins stars in 'Equus', on now at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino until May 26.

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