Tuesday 24 Jul, 2012

Travel Interview with Greg Watts

EF's Greg Watts with son, Matías

Greg and son Matías

Time once again to hear from one of the EF family and I am delighted to welcome Greg Watts to the stage to take the Independent newspaper’s travel survey. Greg is someone I was very lucky to work with on some projects a few years back and I was very unlucky that we didn’t get to collaborate more. Greg is also an avid reader of this blog, no surprise as he was a regular contributor in 2008 and 2009 (his favorites are from his Transatlantic Time Travel series from 2008), and I still enjoy the chance to re-read some of his posts and steal ideas!

Introducing Greg
I’m a Massachusetts native who saw an EF job ad in the Boston Globe in 1999, and have been an EF-er since. I worked for eight years in Tours: I started as a Tour Consultant, but soon moved to Europe to join the operations side (including one year as a Tour Director), living in three great European cities in the process: Amsterdam, Lucerne, and Malaga. In 2010, I joined an exciting product outside of Tours: Corporate Language Learning Solutions. Here, I manage the implementation of online English training projects for locations of US corporations all over the globe. I completed my MBA this year, and I love applying the skills and confidence gained there every day in my job.

On a personal note, my wife and I make up one of EF’s many international couples – she’s from Spain (and also an EF-er). We have two boys, Matías (4) and Andrés (3 months).

First holiday memory?
Cape Cod. Every summer for two weeks when I was a kid. It used to take us 2 ½ hours to drive from central Massachusetts to the house we stayed at (it belonged to my mother’s aunt). I remember how excited I would get, crossing onto the Cape, to see pine trees of a sort we just didn’t have at home (an internet search reveals that they are called scrub pines – but they might as well have been lunar pines for all the “another-world” exhilaration they inspired in me). Only years later would the perspective come that this trip did not even involve leaving Massachusetts!

Best holiday?
My wife and I did our honeymoon in Mexico – we loved Queretaro and Oaxaca in particular. We stayed at amazing Camino Real hotels (to date still the most beautiful hotels I’ve stayed in) and discovered chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast offering that I would describe as an omelet and a plate of nachos combined. The queso fundido and the hot chocolate were also to become legend. Bonus features included meeting Jimmy Carter and watching the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years, on an outdoor TV at a small bar in Oaxaca’s main square.

Favorite place in the US?
California captivates me most – for the typical mythical properties people ascribe to it, i.e., the land of Sun, Happiness and Famous People. Seeing it from my wife’s perspective was memorable. She’s from Spain, and for her, the US was New England. The first time we went to California together, she was just marveling about the landscapes, the climate, and the huge Spanish influence all around (even the Spanish place names on highway signs – which were apparently more exciting and definitely easier on the eye and tongue than place names like Worcester, Leominster, Leicester, Gloucester and other Massachusetts challenges). Not to mention what she immediately noticed as a completely more laid-back and friendly approach of the people. I liked how she considered it practically another country – which only added to its pull for me, I suppose.

Málaga, Spain


What have you learnt from your travels?
How to pack like a European, i.e., carrying a suitcase that I would have once thought was impossibly compact and light. It’s a great source of pride to see how far I’ve come from the days of packing five sweaters, three pairs of shoes, two coats, etc.

Who would be your ideal travelling companion?
My wife, and, when they’re old enough, our kids. I think one of the best benefits of travel is being able to share flashback moments. Shared travel experiences can be worth 1000 words: “Doesn’t this place remind you of that restaurant in such-and-such?” And so these shared experiences become something of a code language between/among you. I can’t think of anyone better than family to have fun shared memories and a cool code language with!

Greatest travel luxury?
Not having a pressing to-do list. Either on the trip, or to come back to after the trip.

Which EF tour would you choose to take (add why if you like)?
Somewhere I haven’t been yet. Touring is still a great way to chart new territory, even for an experienced traveler!

Better to travel or arrive?
It’s fun to travel – of those times in life when I’ve felt that Indiana-Jones adventurer/frontiersman rush; a lot of them have come from the “getting-there” part. But I’m also a guy who likes to have all my ducks in order, so unpacking and setting myself up in the new place – even if it’s a business trip and that place is a hotel room – is a big satisfaction. And the arrival destination usually has so much more to offer an adventurer than the airports or taxis did. So, edge: Arrive.

Most amusing travel experience?
Becoming acquainted with Ireland through the excellent humor (and accent) of our EF Tour Director, Sean McKeown.

Favorite Museum or Site?
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I love the Dutch masters – especially Vermeer. And museum itself always seemed particularly open and airy. The building is captivating too; I would behold the façade of the museum every morning on my bicycle ride into work (a major thoroughfare for bicycle traffic passes under an archway/tunnel of the museum, which is another reason to love it).

Chilaquiles in Mexico

Best meal abroad?
I’m not much of a foodie, so (rather unfortunately) I enjoy excellent meals intensely in the moment, and then later forget all the details. But a few meals stay with me for the context I enjoyed them in:

A pancake (pannekoek) breakfast with a tall glass of milk, in Amsterdam. I had been living in Amsterdam for a month and feeling a bit homesick for familiar foods. At that time I was unaware that Holland specializes in pancakes, and I still had an aversion to drinking milk from foreign countries (the concept of milk purchased at room temperature was throwing me off). Pancakes and milk never tasted so wholesome and healthy. I was a UHT milk fan from then on.

A chilaquiles breakfast in Querétaro, México. It was the first morning of our honeymoon, after an exhausting trip and arrival the night before. To go along with this amazing new food, we were in a beautiful open courtyard under the morning sun, first day ever in Mexico for us both. We had all the wedding stress and travel behind us, and two weeks of relaxation ahead. Rice Krispies probably would have been memorable in this context (no offense to chilaquiles).

Any one of many home-cooked meals with friends while I lived in Switzerland — almost always involving a Spanish or Italian specialty, prepared by a native. Great friends, great food and drink, cozy living rooms.

Dream trip?
A vacation somewhere by the sea , in a house or a cottage, with a group of friends/loved ones to laugh with or take stock of things with, where brunches and barbecues and lawn or beach activities are the focal points of the day. Also: Being the first one up, to enjoy the peace of the very early morning with a coffee.

What do you never travel without?
I have had the same zip-up toiletries bag since 1996; I bought it just before embarking on my Junior Year Abroad to Seville, Spain. That bag has made every single overnight trip with me – by air, land or sea, short trips and long trips, near and far – since then. Every single trip! I got a new one as a gift about 10 years ago but never used it – I couldn’t replace Old Faithful!

Where are you going next?
Madrid, for a client meeting.

Readers, do you have any questions for Greg?

Flickr photo via Gotardo, kirkh
(Editor’s note: Add Paul on Google+ If you have a question about for EF Tour Director Paul Mattesini, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)