Travelling has always been part of my life. Firstly as a
student with a rucksack then latterly as a
businessman with briefcase and, of course, on family
holidays to off-the-beaten track destinations
(always). Travelling leaves me wide-eyed in wonder
of people, places and things. I’m fortunate to have
travelled to many countries and have always tried to
sketch when away.
If you are lucky enough to visit Acapulco, the thing
one usually tries to do, is to go and watch the cliff
divers. On our last day, we spent most of the
afternoon in a restaurant downtown drinking
Margaritas. Opposite the cafe, was the bus depot
with its constant churn of activity. We never made it
to the cliff divers.
The trams in Helsinki each provide a microcosm of
Finland in their warm, snug interiors. Old women
dressed in huge fur coats, school children in brightly
coloured ski-wear, business people with scarves and
woolly hats. And all speaking a language that is
Gare, Vizzavona, Corsica
The Gare in Vizzavona is a tiny house beside which is
a single track that sees the Corte to Ajaccio train
pass twice a day. In Victorian times, Vizzavona used
to be a spa-magnet for rich Europeans seeking the
fresh alpine-like airs of the Corsican mountains. For
us, it was a welcome day of rest from a 180km hike
across the island.
The wind whips off the North Sea and although the
sun is shining brightly in the clear blue sky, it’s fresh
and cold. The beaches in Jutland run for miles,
backed by high dunes and punctuated by houses
that proudly fly the Danish flag. Watching the
windsurfers dance on the waves, we huddle down to
picnic in the dunes, protected from the wind to eat
Snow blankets the streets of Helsinki and the
temperature drops to -28degC. Beneath multiple
layers, I watched in astonishment as life continues as
normal. Children merrily make their way to school,
the trains and buses hum through the freshly cleared
streets. It’s light at 10.00 and it will be dark again by
On the cliff-face above Akureyn, a colony of puffins had
made their home. These clumsy, awkward birds were a
delight to watch as they battled against the swirling winds
that circled and buffeted around the rock face. By some
miracle they managed to make landings on the small
outcrops of rock that they each guarded fiercely against
The GR20 is known as Europe’s most difficult hike and
runs right across and along the mountainous spine of
Corsica. The hike normally takes around two weeks in
14 stages with each stage ending in a ‘refuge’, usually
a contrivance of broken down buildings and
In Kotor, the tourism industry was just starting to get
going. Enclosed by mountains on three sides, it’s
harbour was filled with expensive yachts from Croatia
and further afield. Away from the waterfront bars, we
walked through the old medieval town stopping to
practise our newly found greeting to the locals,
sitting on wooden chairs in open doorways. ‘Dobre
Dan’ we said. ‘Dobre’ they replied.
Take the most vivid of blues and the whitest of whites
and throw in some splashes of orange and red and
green and you have Essaouria, it’s main souk a riot of
colour, noise and aromas. We found the fish market
and after long negotiation, managed to buy five
steaks of fresh shark carved straight out of the huge
fish in the centre of the marble slab in front of us.
As the wind got up, the mist started to descend and
the temperature began to fall. At the refuge high in
the mountains, Elena drank her tea and began to add
additional layers to protect herself from the cold and
damp. The final touch was the waterproof which she
zipped up to her nose so only her eyes remained
The gateway to the Fjords is picture-perfect Norway.
It’s tiny streets and wooden house wind around the
harbour and into the foothills of the mountains. In the
centre of Bergen, we found the Opera cafe, one of
the most beautiful and expensive cafes in Norway.
India is so magical, so chaotic, beautiful and
frustrating in every way and it never fails to surprise
you. After spending a day on the beach we walked
back through the trees, down a small track, to join
up with the main road. Halfway down the track was
an enormous church, painted bright yellow.
When most of the country is covered in ice and snow
for half of the year, it makes perfect sense to paint
your buildings anything other than white. How about
bright pink? Even on the coldest and wettest of days,
a bright pink cafe in the centre of Reykjavik is a
welcome sight and and open invitation to step inside.
For what seemed like hours, we drove through the
darkness following only the automated directions of
our rented satnav. At one point driving through
someone’s backyard, we obediently took every left
and right turn as instructed. The children were
becoming restless and I admit to becoming a little
concerned. Would we ever find this place? This tiny
house, high in the hills above Lucca?
We walked through the old medieval streets of
Vilnius, stretching our legs after a day of meetings.
The cobbled streets wound up and down, opening
occasionally to reveal grand buildings often painted
in bright colours. The sky grew dark and it suddenly
to began to rain heavily. Next to a large pink building
was a student bar called ‘Spunka’ which sold
Lithuanian craft beer.
Detail, Vilnius, Lithuania
A church sits at the end of wide thoroughfare, lined
on each side with open air cafes beneath broad trees
that run in parallel and down to the square. Next to
the church is a beautiful tower.
The weather was so hot that we decided we would
eat outside one evening, in the tiled square in front
of our house. Employing the help of all the children,
we managed to carry the old wooden dining table
out of the front door and set it up beneath a
streetlight. We ate homemade pasta that night,
drank Vino Rosso and watched the shooting stars.
In the centre of Copenhagen, there is a lovely restaurant
and cocktail bar called Brønnum. It’s where Hans Christian
Andersen used to go for a quick tipple before knocking off
one of his stories. Inside, its quite easy to imagine what it
must have been like for him, sitting by an open fire,
smoking a long pipe and talking with his fellow writers.
It’s easy to forget that Scandinavia does actually enjoy
good weather in the summer. When the days are warm and
the sun is still high even at 10.00pm, it’s wonderful to walk
through this compact city centre and watch the bars and
cafes fill with life. If you can afford it, it’s really a lovely way
to while away a summers evening.
Manhattan, New York
What I didn’t fully appreciate, is that people actually
live in Manhattan. Beneath and alongside the
towering skyscrapers there are schools and
playgrounds and apartment blocks with people
living normal lives. We walked through Chinatown
and towards SoHo and watched people going to
work, taking the dog for a walk, playing with the
children, hanging the washing out and shopping in
the tiny shops on street corners.
When I first visited Tallinn 20years ago, it was a
medieval town throwing off the yoke of decades of
Soviet rule. The streets had open markets selling
handmade shawls and blankets. Today Tallinn is at
the heart of modern Estonia where digitalisation has
moved daily life online. It is an exciting, innovative
and modern city. But the skyline over the old town
remains the same.
Our friends rented a house in Benitses and invited us to stay.
In the morning I would walk down from the house and into
the centre of the town. The shops were not yet open and the
restaurants were serving coffee to the few tourists that were
up and about. Behind the Main Street, was a tiny street with
narrow houses and at the end, a bakers selling freshly made
Urban sketching has always been an interest and a
love of mine but lockdown has forced us all to stay at
home. Bereft of inspiration, I asked Hilary one day
what she thought I should sketch. ‘Draw a parrot’ she
Weirdly, I now have many friends in Riga, made
exclusively through business connections. One bright
morning, we walked through the commercial centre
of Riga to our first business meeting with a client who
would then become a good and supportive friend.
Opposite, his office was a grand building, the walls
surrounding its windows painted a vivid light blue.
Sketching a place or a scene is so much more
immersive than just taking a photograph. The very
act of sitting down to sketch something, means you
become totally absorbed in your surroundings and in
The process can take less than a minute or a hour or
so but you see the details you would otherwise miss;
the colours, the shadows and the way the light
catches in reflections.
And then, years later, when you look at your sketch
again, you are there, back in the moment.
My sincere thanks to Nicky Newberry and the
cornerHOUSE for this opportunity. I hope we all
have the chance to travel again very soon.