“In space, you travel around the world every 90 minutes. It’s very unifying,” says Colonel Chris Hadfield. Although he orbited the Earth 16 times a day while he was commander of the International Space Station, Col. Hadfield is no stranger to the delights that travel on his own planet can bring. The UK’s Independent caught up with him to ask about his best–and worst–experiences on the road:
First holiday memory?
Scuba diving in Barbados. My father was an airline pilot so there was the opportunity for free passes. We did one very rapid family vacation from Toronto to Barbados. In the harbour of Bridgetown, there was an introductory scuba diving class. I was only 11, but it was back before the rules were so strict. I’ve gone on to scuba dive my entire life because of that first experience.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
Tintagel in Cornwall. I toured the whole south-west coast of England. It was beautiful, rugged and wild. It has ancient Viking battlegrounds and palpable prehistoric sites, all in one inherently windswept and beautiful place.
Portugal. My wife and I went down the coast and east into the country, driving through the hills and all the wine-producing regions. We saw everything from the coast of the Algarve to the capital, Lisbon. It was a really unscheduled, unplanned adventure, which is the type my wife and I like. There was a real sense of discovery the whole way.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That the most interesting thing is people. The way we are all faced with the same basic problems in our 70-odd years on Earth, but the myriad ways we resolve those problems: the way we set up civilisations; the way we treat ourselves and each other; the delightful local solutions that we develop to deal with the same fundamental set of challenges, is fascinating.
When you’re in space, you travel around the whole world every 90 minutes, so it tends to make you see the same repeated pattern of human settlement and habitation. It’s a very unifying thing.
Ideal travelling companion?
Someone who has a sense of adventure, who keeps the same hours as I do, who knows things I don’t, who has their own ideas but who is willing to listen to mine, and who has great patience and tolerance of things being different.
Greatest travel luxury?
A heavenly, king-sized bed. I stayed at a hotel once which had the most amazing bed and I thought, “Why don’t I have one of these?” So I sourced the materials and created my own. I now feel like I’ve won a contest every night.
Where has seduced you?
The wine country in the very north of New Zealand’s South Island. I’ve never been, but I think a true seduction should have a mystique and an unrequited nature to it.
It’s a place I looked at over and over again from orbit and took pictures of and thought about. I had the chance to look at a lot of the world that way, but to me that patch of New Zealand looks very seductive and interesting. There are mountains nearby and you could actually see the vineyards where the wine grows. There’s a dryness to the land, similar to northern California.
Worst travel experience?
When I was a teenager I hitchhiked across Europe. It took six months, so it covered a variety of the best and the worst experiences. But I think the worst was probably not having enough money to drink bottled water and the ensuing problems that took place in a youth hostel in Spain. It was a horrific example of how the body can misbehave. Just awful!
Up by Jasper National Park on the eastern side of the Rockies in Alberta, Canada. It’s a magnificent drive. You pass through a long north-south valley, that has high-crested ridges, beautiful water and glaciers. I went camping there with my wife, our labrador and the noise of the brook. It’s a beautiful place.
Best meal abroad?
The French Laundry in Napa Valley. I’ve only been there once, because it’s expensive, but every single mouthful is a work of art. The combination they made with the wine, set the standard of how a meal should be.
Moscow. It’s an unfriendly city until you speak Russian, which I do. I spent 20 years studying the language so I could fly a Russian rocket, command the Space Station, and become Nasa’s director in Russia. Moscow is home to 11 million people and is a thousand years old. It has tremendous history and texture to it. I love the ancient nature and the shared level of appreciation of their culture. They are self-consciously proud of it. It’s not the easiest city, but it’s my favourite.
Portugal, the Caribbean, Las Vegas, California and Canada, but a true holiday for me would be my cottage in Canada. I’ve travelled more than most, so that sanctuary of having a peaceful, unchanging place to be relaxed and anonymous, is a real haven for me.