It began in front of my TV, watching Henning Mankell’s deadpan detective, Wallander, shuffle his way unerringly to the solution of a crime. Wallander’s world was one of strong spirits, heart-warming humour and cold-hearted murders set in the moody landscape of Southern Sweden.
Not content to buy the best-selling Kurt Wallander Mysteries or wait for the second BBC series starring Kenneth Branagh in the New Year, I flew to Copenhagen and crossed the Öresund Bridge to the fertile region of Skåne (pronounced skoener), home to two worldwide hits — Absolut Vodka and Kurt Wallander.
Their banks may have hammered our pension funds, but Icelanders are giving something back this year — at least to visitors. This fascinating land of geysers and volcanoes, which has also carved an urban reputation for hot clubs, cool bars and cutting-edge design is now at its most affordable in a decade.
Devaluation — theirs — plus low-cost flights make this a great time to discover Reykjavik, the most northerly capital in the world, as well as the natural wonders of the nearby Golden Triangle.
I had never tasted potato dumpling with goat’s cheese before, let alone try to pronounce its culinary name - bryndzove halušky, but then I had never been to the Slovakian capital, before. A canopy of carbs, this hearty speciality of the city was unexpectedly appealing. Much like the city itself.
It’s midnight outside the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and the place is humming. The last cinema-goers have left but the open courtyard in front is suddenly a mass of wheels — bicycles and trollies, but most of all rollerskates.
It’s fun to go off the beaten track sometimes, but if all you want is a brief, indulgent break, then the delightful city of Bruges will release your inner lip-smacking, camera-swinging, beer-swilling, sightseeing, chip-guzzling, chocoholic tourist.
Bruges is home to just 20,000 people, yet more than three million tourists visit each year. July and August are the favoured months, but in May and June or September and October when the weather is temperate you can still enjoy that tourist vibe, and walking around this compact city will be more a saunter than a day at the dodgems.
We were on an intrepid mission and there were risks: blisters, arguments, financial ruin and a 4am wake-up call before dragging our cases on to a National Express bus at Golders Green, and then queueing for an easyJet flight to Naples.
It was tough: traipsing around Mafia-imbued streets, reading and then abandoning all guide books.
A brow-beaten and slightly emphysemic eight-seater plane of uncertain age and less certain power (max speed 110 mph — my Audi does that on West End Lane) flew us from Guyana’s weather-boarded old colonial capital of Georgetown, birthplace of more West Indies cricket legends than you can wield a bat at, to the fabled and heart-stoppingly sensational Kaieteur Falls.
At 750 feet, one of the longest and most powerful single-drop waterfalls on the face of the planet, Kaieteur is arguably the most beautiful waterfall in the world, and incontestably the most remote and least visited.
Some people love Paris in the springtime. But I’ll take Budapest in the autumn, the perfect time to go. Especially this year: Hungary was named best-value country in the Post Office’s Holiday Costs Barometer for 2009. With its recession-hit economy and devalued forint, the country is keen to attract visitors and prices have fallen accordingly.
Of course, for me Budapest is much more than an affordable holiday destination — it is where I was born, four years before the 1956 Uprising which led to my family’s flight to the West.
It took an open-top car snug enough for two, a healthy breeze and miles of unbroken road to get this Mr Toad out of Toad Hall and off to Chelsea-on-Sea. And with a poop-poop and glassy-eyed visions of million-pound designer beach huts, he was on his way up the A1 to the Fens, planning the perfect day in a perfect town where Orwell once lived and the seagulls sound just a little posher than those over Southend.