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A decade in travel: Tom Hall’s review

By Tom Hall   22 December 2009 9:40pm Europe/London

Concluding our globetrotting review of the decade, Lonely Planet’s European Travel Editor Tom Hall takes us through his highlights of the past ten years.

Best place visited in the past ten years?

Echoing Frances, it’s another vote for Ethiopia. Nowhere else comes close for the sense of adventure, amazing history which still feels hidden and unsurpassed scenery. Lalibela’s rock churches are the highlight of a country stuffed with surprises.

Asmara's Tagliero Building

Asmara's Tagliero Building

Eritrea is a close second, even if it is a mess at the moment. Asmara is an astonishing city, stuffed full of wonderful modernist buildings and superb cafes If only the two country’s governments would open the border: Addis Ababa to Asmara would be a road trip to beat anything in Africa.

Biggest let-down?

I splashed out on a first-class sleeper from Brussels to Hamburg (a bargain at €49, in fact) expecting to have some kind of fancy night train compartment to myself. Instead, I got a five hour delay followed by a grubby berth shared with a very smelly naked man. He at first refused to unlock the door to let me in and then talked loudly on his phone in the middle of the night. Then, after only two hours sleep I was told to get off in Dortmund and transfer to a series of increasingly crowded and slow trains. I arrived in Oslo, my final destination, a whole 24 hours late and exhausted.

Biggest surprise?

St Enoch's Station building, Glasgow

St Enoch's Station building, Glasgow

I went to Glasgow for an evening football match and wished I was staying  a week. The city centre is stuffed full of great buildings, interesting shops and cafes. A special shout to the 1%ABV ginger beer brewed at the Mono bar. There’s a circular railway which is fast and fun, a brilliant football museum and the rejuvenated Clyde riverside. Edinburgh seemed a bit tame after that.

Best or funniest single moment on the road?

The long road to Namibia

The long road to Namibia

Entering a Lonely Planet relay team on the Tour d’Afrique bike ride was astupendously silly idea, but one that came to glorious fruition. The ribbing I took for getting lost* on the longest straight road in Botswana gave my fellow riders plenty to laugh at, especially when I spent the night in sweaty lycra as all my gear was a hundred miles behind me.

There’s a video about this stage of the Tour d’Afrique.

Name one way travel has changed in the past decade

Budget flights transformed getting around Europe. Despite gripes about service and being dumped at obscure airports a long way from town centres have largely been a boon to travellers. Ten years ago I paid £99 to travel from London to Stockholm and thought it was a bargain. Today the same flight is less than a third of that price.

Thing you most wanted to do, but missed?

My brother and I were going to spend a week in Iceland, trekking round glaciers and sleeping in our hire car. Work commitments meant the trip was cancelled at the last minute and we haven’t been back. In the meantime Iceland has got more and more popular and I’ve got a little bit older, meaning the idea of sleeping in a car with my brother has lost some of its charm. There’s always the next decade.

First thing you’re going to do in 2010?

After thirteen countries in 2009 I’m going to spend much of 2010 revisiting old favourites at home, which means Devon, the Lake District and Northumberland.

*I should point out that I was, in fact, not lost. I knew where I was at all times. I just managed to overshoot our bush camp by 80 miles and end up in the next town.