Is it your dream to visit Europe, see the pristine, snow-covered Alps, explore quaint, charming towns and experience the glorious food and wine culture? It was Howard Ellis’ dream too – and he lived it for two weeks. He shares his story and some travel tips …
Hi Howard. Tell us a bit about yourself … Whereabouts in the Greater Port Macquarie region do you call home, and what’s your family background?
Thanks for the interview, Jo, and thank you FOCUS! I have lived in Port Macquarie for the last 10 years and love every minute of it! I love nature and the outdoors; we have won life lotto to be where we are. The natural beauty here is amazing, and I still pinch myself to be so lucky that I can be immersed in nature within minutes of leaving the front door – whether by driving or walking, it is all around us.
Originally my family is from South Africa; we left when I was six for England, and my parents finally got us here four years later.
What’s your day job?
I own Greater Port Signs; we are a signage business in Bellbowrie Business Park, Port Macquarie. We have been making signs for nearly 10 years now. I love my work – it’s the best job I have ever had!
You recently had a trip and explored the European Alps. Firstly, why did you choose this as your destination, and what was it about the area that inspired you?
I have wanted to go Europe for many years. Having been to the Snowy Mountains skiing and including a few trips in summer, which is spectacular – and might I add, world class – I wanted to see the European Alps … to see with my understanding, the best I could see for me. It was my birthday too, and I have never really shouted myself a great present and at 46 years old, I thought – why not? It is as simple as that.
What were your departure dates – and how long were you away?
I left on the 25th May, and I came back on the 11th June. I went through seven countries in two weeks in a car. It was a very busy schedule, and I saw so much – I am glad to have taken so many pictures.
What are some of the places you stayed during your holiday, and what was your overall impression of the accommodation?
I stayed in seven separate places. My favourite was the B&B Adelaide in Como, Northern Italy – a truly beautiful, very large old house in the hills on several acres owned by eight generations of the same family. I was so lucky to book a place as beautiful as that. Highly recommended for couples, and I would go back there in a second. I even told my travel agent about it! (The photo of Como [above left] is from my bedroom window).
Favourite meal/drink while away?
Well, I made a side step at the end of the trip to Barcelona in Spain, which is an incredible and ancient city. It is around 200 years old, with historical buildings and ruins to boot. I love Paella; I went to a no frills restaurant at lunch, and it was the best I have ever eaten.
I had an amazing half bottle of Spanish wine with it, a Sauvignon Blanc from Catalonia, and European white wine was my favourite drink. European wine has a soft, well rounded taste, perfectly suited with food. I so get now why Europeans have wine with their food. I could go back to Europe just to eat their food and drink their wine – it’s that good! I did not have a dud meal in Europe; it is food and wine heaven.
What are some of the towns/sites you visited, and why did you enjoy them?
I don’t know where to start … whether it’s the towns I drove through and wished I could have stayed a night, or planned to see more of, or a view or walk I could have experienced.
Innsbruck in Austria is spectacular; it is a city of around 300,000 people, and the Alps are everywhere. The city has buildings that are hundreds of years old – stunning homes like I have never seen before on huge blocks of land. The city is beautifully laid out, with the Inns River running through it.
Como in Northern Italy at the base of the Alps was an ancient Roman holiday town, and Lake Como is to die for. I detoured to Venice; just go see it for yourself. It will not disappoint!
Zurich is an old city, and Zurich central city is like Amsterdam with its elongated river, tourist ferries from Lake Geneva … and yes, their style of “Coffee Shops” unbeknownst to me. There is an old Persian and multicultural influence in Switzerland I never knew existed. You must see Geneva, Switzerland too and of course, the Jet d’Eau, a huge and spectacular fountain in the lake.
What were some of the activities you enjoyed in Europe?
The most memorable activity for me was travelling up the longest single run cable car in the northern hemisphere (it was until recently the longest in the world). That was in Chamonix in France. It takes you to nearly 4,000 m from Chamonix at 1,500 m. The view is incredible, and it has snow all year round. It is over 2 km vertically to the town below. I have never in my life seen something so amazing.
I also saw two glaciers at Chamonix, the Les Bosson and Mer Di Glacie. They are heavily in retreat, surely due to global warming – and from the last 150 years, I might add.
The European culture, with 100 million inhabitants, go to great lengths to live with the environment – and I was very grateful to see this. I also fished and caught two trout, one off a highway 10 km out of Innsbruck and another really good sized Brown Trout in the Italian Dolomites. Yes, I took a fishing rod with me!
OK … Everyone has THAT travel story to share, whether a funny escapade, or a disastrous experience. What was yours?
I went to a wine bar in Chamonix after a hike to see the Les Bosson Glacier. I met some ex-pat Brits, who were clearly quite merry! I was dragged off to a party in a very nice BMW; it was a national holiday, and everyone was eating and drinking.
My new friends left me with the indigenous hosts in a village, and I didn’t know where I was. I just thought I would walk back to town, and got very lost. By the time I made it back to the car in the morning, it was six degrees centigrade, and I was in shorts and a T-shirt! I had stopped shivering, I was that cold. I got in the shower at the hotel for an hour and went to Geneva regardless!
What’s something you’d recommend other travellers do if they visit the same destination you enjoyed?
I planned my holiday myself; there’s so much I saw in two weeks, I don’t know where to start. If you are fortunate enough to go on a guided tour or unplanned as I did, there is so much to do and see … Somehow just do it, just do it! Europe will not disappoint.
Oh yes … If you are to drive as I did, ask and make sure the car has an English speaking SAT NAV on board.
Thanks Howard. Interview by Jo Robinson.