Booze, burns and amorous bus drivers

Mon, Sep 3, 2012, 01:00

A lifetime of taking holidays has meant some fantastic trips - and more than a few disasters in far-flung locations, writes SHARON HORGAN

Two things I love most about holidays abroad: taking in the culture and history of a foreign land; and all-day beer-drinking. I’m on holiday right at this moment, sitting outside my Corfiot villa, looking out across the Ionian sea, thinking about a lifetime of holidays. Picking out the worst is tricky, as there are a few strong contenders.

My honeymoon on the sunny isle of St Lucia in 2005 was blighted by torrential rain for 12 days out of 14, followed by falling backwards down a hill off my sun lounger and suffering crushed neck vertebrae. Then there was a moped crash in Athens; losing all my holiday money on my first night in Tenerife; and an engine failure in a high-speed tunnel outside Amsterdam.

I came to holidays abroad rather late in life. I was 20 before I first travelled to warmer climes. We didn’t holiday abroad as children. And, bar two trips to London (I saw real punks! I ate at my first Wimpy’s!), a Wicklow caravan site and nearby water park was our number-one holiday destination. My main memory of Wicklow in the summer is listening to Wimbledon on the car stereo and smoking behind the only shop enterprising enough to sell fags to pre-teens. The legacy of these halcyon days spent in a caravan by a waterpark is a lifelong phobia of caravans and waterparks.

I didn’t do things by half on my first trip abroad. I travelled on my own to Istanbul. I don’t remember why I chose Istanbul as my first holiday destination. I do remember why I travelled alone. I was supposed to go with a Krishna devotee I’d befriended in London but he ran out of money and had to pull out at the last minute. This was an Ayurvedic blessing in disguise because he turned out to be one of those psychotic, acid-casualty krishnas with kick-boxing skills and a penchant for fighting the boyfriends of any girl stupid enough to wear Tulsi beads.

I wouldn’t call my holiday to Turkey a disaster. Not wholly. It was in many ways a wonderful experience. I stayed in €4-a-night pensions, read Hemingway’s Fiesta (the sexiest of all the great works of holiday literature) and travelled from Istanbul to Selcuk to see the ancient temple of Artemis, and to get a deeper tan. It did, however, provide a couple of incidents that, if not disastrous, were definitely unpleasant.

On my second night there, I took the overnight coach to Ephesus, which boarded a ferry to cross the Marmara sea. Once the bus was aboard, the very friendly coach driver came down the back to take a break and have a chat with me and my travelling companion. When my companion popped off to the loo, the driver, still chatting and smiling, thought he might just pop his hand down my top and grab a boob. I’ve never experienced such a friendly assault. I stared in disbelief, swore at him and told him he was in big trouble. When my friend got back, I told him what happened. He decided we should keep quiet because fighting the coach driver might get us thrown off his coach. After some thought, I agreed.

So I travelled on to Ephesus. I saw the ruins, rode a horse on a beach in a bikini, chaffed my thighs, and on the last day of the trip got severe sunburn. And I mean severe; my body was a blistering mess and one of my eyes swelled up. I decided that the best way through the pain, and to prepare for the overnight coach journey back, was to drink a lot of beer. Quite an awful lot. Hemingway would have been proud of the number of mini Heinekens I imbibed that night.

The coach was packed and the only seat left was beside a sweet little man who made space for my rucksack and smiled kindly as I drifted into a booze coma. I awoke some time later with a searing pain. Confused and groggy, I opened my eyes. The pain was coming from my sunburnt tummy as the sweet little man, trying to fit his hand down my sarong, rubbed against the blistering skin. I shoved him off and marched down the end of the bus, furious. To get felt up once on an overnight coach is unfortunate, twice is just carelessness. I arrived back in Istanbul that morning a little less gung-ho than when I arrived.

So that was my first holiday abroad. And I guess the most disaster-laden. (I ended the trip with a missed flight home and, having no money, a grovelling plea to my parents to wire me some more.) Still, the food was great and when the burns subsided my tan was pretty awesome.

This current holiday has been great and, despite falling off a footbridge, cutting my ankle badly, then getting bitten by a fish attracted by my scab, relatively incident free. And I’m re-reading Fiesta. What a book.

Sharon Horgan’s new series on marriages will air on Channel 4 in late September

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