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Papin to Pogba: The Story of the Football Transfer Record

I originally wrote this piece earlier in the summer when Neymar’s move from Barcelona to Paris-Saint Germain was a swirling rumour, but as I couldn’t find anyone interested in publishing it, I’m breaking my golden rule and writing a football-related post on here. I found myself wondering how often breaking the world transfer record works out, and how often it doesn’t. Since this was written, Neymar has made his move to the French capital in the first deal to exceed £100m (and, indeed, the first to hit £200m), while Barcelona have also smashed the £100m barrier to bring in Borussia Dortmund’s exciting young forward Ousmane Dembélé.

It came to my attention prior to publishing this that Sky Sports had had the same idea. But someone was always going to, so I make no apologies for publishing this anyway!


Brazilian superstar Neymar is seemingly on the verge of a £200m move from Barcelona to Paris-Saint Germain, though it remains to be seen whether the eye-wateringly expensive deal ultimately goes through. But just how successful have world record signings been in the modern era? Beginning with the advent of the UEFA Champions League in 1992, I ask whether buying clubs received enough bang for their world record buck.

1) 1992 – Jean-Pierre Papin – Marseille to AC Milan – £10m

No year has seen the world transfer fee record broken more times than 1992. The first of the trio of unprecedented big-money moves saw AC Milan become the first club to break the £10m barrier by bringing in French forward Papin from Marseille. Papin had a remarkable record in France, scoring plenty of goals and winning an array of domestic trophies, as well as the Ballon d’Or.

However, things didn’t go quite so well in Italy – arguably Europe’s strongest league at the time. Papin did manage a decent scoring rate for the Rossoneri, but injury problems hampered his attempts to settle into life at the San Siro, and he left for Bayern Munich after just two seasons. Despite his struggles in Italy, Papin still achieved a strike ratio just shy of one goal every two matches, not bad considering the player’s fitness battles.

VERDICT – A quality player worth every penny on paper, injuries prevented Papin from truly living up to the world record price tag at Milan.

Jean-Pierre Papin
Jean-Pierre Papin

 

2) 1992 – Gianluca Vialli – Sampdoria to Juventus – £12m

In a sign of the strength of Italian football during this period, it wasn’t long before Juventus eclipsed Milan’s outlay on Papin by splashing out £12m to bring in Sampdoria striker Gianluca Vialli. Vialli’s prolific partnership with Roberto Mancini had helped deliver Sampdoria their most successful period, so it was no surprise when a giant of Italian football stepped in to claim the club’s prized asset.

Vialli’s first two seasons with Juve saw him struggle to find the kind of form that made him such a hot property at Sampdoria, while injury problems meant he was restricted to just 10 appearance in his second season. However, after working hard to improve his strength and fitness, Vialli’s third and fourth seasons with the club were much more prolific, helping endear him to Juve supporters. His goals would help Juventus to a league and cup double in 1995, followed by Champions League glory a year later.

VERDICT – After a difficult start, Vialli ultimately proved to be money well spent as he helped fire the Old Lady to glory.

Gianluca Vialli
Gianluca Vialli (left) takes on Parma’s Fernando Couto

 

3) 1992 – Gianluigi Lentini – Torino to AC Milan – £13m

It wasn’t long before Milan reclaimed their title as the game’s biggest spenders from rivals Juventus, but the story of Gianluigi Lentini is laced with sadness. The winger had built up a stellar reputation for pace and trickery during his time with boyhood club Torino, helping them achieve promotion to Serie A and then challenge towards the top of the table.

A year after signing for Milan for a world record fee, Lentini was involved in a serious road traffic accident that left him with a litany of injuries, including a fractured skull. Remarkably, he recovered sufficiently to return to action, but health issues in the wake of the accident continued to hinder his game and prevented him from performing at his previous best. Despite this, he still claimed an impressive list of honours during his four seasons with the Rossoneri, including the Champions League, three Serie A titles, and the Italian Super Cup.

VERDICT – To come back from the injuries sustained in his car accident and play for Europe’s best team at the time attests to Lentini’s strength of character. Although he may not have hit the heights he was surely destined for, his list of achievements despite such challenging circumstances makes it churlish to declare Lentini anything but a success.

Gianluigi Lentini
Gianluigi Lentini

 

4) 1996 – Ronaldo – PSV Eindhoven to Barcelona – £13.2m

Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima is one of only two players to break the world transfer record twice (the other is Diego Maradona), during a career which saw him become, for many, the greatest ever out-and-out goalscorer. The Brazilian arrived in Europe as a teenager at relatively unfashionable PSV Eindhoven, and his record of a goal a game during his two seasons in the Netherlands caught the eye of Europe’s biggest clubs. There seemed little doubt that, as the world record fee was broken for the first time in four years, Ronaldo would be a hit at Barcelona.

Sadly for the Catalan outfit, they couldn’t keep hold of their prolific new signing for more than one season. Ronaldo was indeed a phenomenal hit at Camp Nou, scoring a procession of often breathtaking goals, winning World Footballer of the Year, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. While observers struggled for superlatives to describe the young Brazilian’s exploits, behind the scenes, there were problems. Attempts to renegotiate his contract broke down, and Barcelona were forced to part with the man they called O Fenômeno, as he departed for Inter Milan, admittedly with the consolation of another world record fee.

VERDICT – Barcelona got one season of sheer brilliance out of Ronaldo. However, their failure to tie the player down to a stay of longer than just a solitary season means his time at the club is tinged with a hint of regret.

Ronaldo
Ronaldo

 

5) 1996 – Alan Shearer – Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United – £15m

When powerful striker Alan Shearer left Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers to join boyhood club Newcastle United, an English club broke the world transfer fee record for the first time since 1951. Shearer’s goals, allied to his formidable strike partnership with Chris Sutton, had fired Blackburn to the title in 1995, but as the club struggled to recapture that form in the following season, it seemed increasingly inevitable that Shearer would leave. Perhaps his strongest suitor was Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, but with Blackburn reluctant to sell to their closest rivals at the top of the Premier League and Shearer himself set on a move home, it was Newcastle who found themselves in pole position.

Shearer was made for the Magpies. A local hero the passionate Toon Army could worship, and willing to disregard the overtures of Manchester United, Shearer went on to become the Premier League’s all-time highest goalscorer, revelling in the adulation of the supporters to whom he could so readily relate. Sadly, the Premier League title at Blackburn was Shearer’s last ever trophy – he won no silverware during his time with Newcastle. But you can bet he has no regrets.

VERDICT – They may not have won any trophies, but Shearer’s goals were a source of endless joy on Tyneside and provided a generation of Newcastle fans with some of their most treasured memories. A snip at £15m.

Alan Shearer
Alan Shearer gracing a banner at Newcastle’s St. James’ Park

 

6) 1997 – Ronaldo – Barcelona to Internazionale – £19.5m

As we’ve already seen, Ronaldo’s one season with Barcelona was an unbridled success. However, with his contract wrangle unresolved, Inter Milan were only too happy to stump up a world record fee to bring in the best striker in the business. The Brazilian’s time with Inter began exactly has his Barça spell had ended, with goals galore and personal accolades that attested to his sheer brilliance.

Sadly, it was at Inter where Ronaldo’s injury problems began, robbing him of some of his explosive power and keeping him sidelined for the entire 2000/2001 season. Ronaldo only won one trophy during his time with the club – the 1998 UEFA Cup – and he never recovered the form that pre-dated his knee issues. It wasn’t until his move to Real Madrid in 2002 that he recaptured some of his old magic.

VERDICT – Ronaldo’s early form in Italy suggests he would have been a huge hit, were it not for his serious knee injuries that ultimately took some of the shine off his time at Inter.

Ronaldo(2)
Ronaldo (left) celebrates a goal with Diego Simeone

 

7) 1998 – Denílson – São Paulo to Real Betis – £21.5m

One of the more leftfield world record breaking transfers saw Real Betis become the first club to break the £20m barrier when they splashed out on up-and-coming Brazilian winger Denílson, in the hope his mercurial talents could help them penetrate the upper echelons of La Liga. Just a teenager when he made his debut for the Brazilian national team, Denílson’s displays of skill and trickery saw him labelled as one of the games great prospects, but it was still a major surprise when the club that swooped to bring him to Europe was Real Betis.

Unfortunately for both club and player, Denílson did not live up to expectations. Despite establishing himself as a regular in the Betis line-up, his difficulties in adapting to life in La Liga saw him loaned to Flamengo in his homeland in 2000. He did return, but failed to nail down a regular starting place, eventually departing for Bordeaux in 2005. Denílson’s career tailed off after that, and the former world record signing now includes Hải Phòng of Vietnam and Greek side Nea Kavala among his former clubs.

VERDICT – It would have been fascinating to see Denílson live up to his potential in the green and white of Real Betis, but it wasn’t to be.

Denilson
Denílson

 

8) 1999 – Christian Vieri – Lazio to Internazionale – £32.1m

Just a year after Real Betis became the first club to break the £20m mark in their signing of Denílson, the world record jumped above £30m as Inter snapped up prolific striker Vieri from Lazio. Unfortunately for Vieri, he joined a club struggling to challenge for titles in Italy, and the managerial merry-go-round at the San Siro often seemed to affect his form. The player was further hampered by injuries – especially during his earlier seasons with the club – that prevented him from forming a consistent partnership with Ronaldo.

Nevertheless, Vieri did flourish under the tutelage of Argentinian manager Héctor Cúper, scoring 25 goals in all competitions in 2001/2002 as Inter narrowly missed out on the title. Following Cúper’s departure, Vieri again began to struggle and his star ultimately waned, before a move to city rivals AC Milan that yielded just eight appearances.

VERDICT – A qualified success, but Inter could have hoped for more from a player for whom they smashed the world transfer record.

Christian Vieri
Christian Vieri (left) with Inter strike partner Ronaldo (and a football)

 

9) 2000 – Hernán Crespo – Parma to Lazio – £35.5m

After winning Serie A in 1999/2000 under Sven-Göran Eriksson, Lazio sought to bolster their efforts to defend their crown by splashing the cash on Parma’s gifted Argentinian forward Crespo. Despite failing in their efforts to retain the title, Crespo’s first season in Rome was a success as he scored 26 league goals, appearing to justify the huge price tag.

However, injuries curtailed Crespo’s influence in his second and final season at the club as several of Lazio’s big-name signings failed to make an impact. As the club began to feel the financial pinch, it became increasingly clear that they would need to sell. On the final day of August 2002, Crespo departed for Inter.

VERDICT – Having spent so much, Lazio would have hoped to have kept hold of Crespo for longer. However, the club’s financial problems forced their hand and meant the player never really had the time to make the kind of impact expected of the world’s most expensive player.

Hernan Crespo
Hernán Crespo

 

10) 2000 – Luís Figo – Barcelona to Real Madrid – £37m

Portugal’s graceful, supremely gifted midfield maestro was the centre of one of the most controversial transfers of all time when Real Madrid, setting out on their Galáctico adventure, prised the player from bitter rivals Barcelona for a world record fee. The move turned Figo from a Camp Nou idol into a hate figure, and the atmosphere during visits to his old stomping ground with Real could be described as seething. Invective would rain down from the cavernous stands, accompanied by all manner of missiles, from liquor bottles to mobile phones.

Figo had been a star in Catalonia, helping Barcelona win two La Liga titles during his five seasons, as well as the Copa del Rey and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. He had already secured his place among the pantheon of the game’s greatest players, owing to his silky passing and elegant movement. Despite the controversy and furore surrounding his move to the Spanish capital, Figo settled in instantly at Real, taking his game to new levels, winning two La Liga titles, as well as the Champions League in 2002.

VERDICT – After one of the most acrimonious transfers in football history, Figo slotted into Real Madrid’s midfield with aplomb, helping to deliver trophies and establish the Galáctico phenomenon. A complete success.

Luis Figo
Luís Figo takes to the air in a clash with Galatasaray

 

11) 2001 – Zinedine Zidane – Juventus to Real Madrid – £46.6m

With the Galáctico era in full swing, Real Madrid signalled their status as the most powerful club in world football by smashing the world transfer fee record to sign Zidane from Juventus. The French international midfielder would go on to cement his place as one of the greatest footballers of all time, peppering his career with moments of sublime genius that often defied belief, possessing an ability to make the game look easy. Zidane’s first season at the Bernabéu ended in glory as he scored a spectacular volley in the Champions League final – one of that competition’s best ever goals – to secure victory.

Zidane, together with Luís Figo, ran the engine room at the heart of the Real midfield as the club won La Liga in 2003, and he also won FIFA World Player of the Year for the third time. Zidane went on to retire from football in 2006, having scored 49 goals in 225 games for the club. In January 2016, Zidane replaced Rafael Benítez as Real Madrid manager, and has already guided them to two Champions Leagues and one La Liga title.

VERDICT – A resounding success as a player, Zidane has only bolstered his standing among Real Madrid fans since becoming manager. There will never be another player quite like Zinedine Zidane.

Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane

 

12) 2009 – Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United to Real Madrid – £80m

Real Madrid’s record fee paid for Zinedine Zidane stood for eight years before they decided to almost double it in signing Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. In the wake of the prospective Neymar deal, it’s easy to forget how staggering the £80m it took to capture Ronaldo from a very reluctant Sir Alex Ferguson’s grasp seemed in 2009. But it’s fair to say that it has been money well spent. A flashy winger in his early days, Ronaldo developed at Old Trafford from a player who at times flattered to deceive into an attacking tour-de-force – a winger whose trickery, pace and awesome physical strength made him a formidable opponent. He also began to demonstrate an eye for goal well beyond that expected of most natural wingers.

After clinging on for as long as they could, United eventually relented and allowed the player to switch to the Spanish capital, and he hasn’t looked back since. Ronaldo’s physique and presence in the penalty area has seen him develop from a winger into a more orthodox centre-forward, and, at the time of writing, the player has scored a scarcely believable 406 goals in 396 appearance for Real Madrid. Ronaldo’s goals have helped the club to win two La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues and two Copa del Reys. In his ongoing rivalry with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi for recognition as the world’s best player (or even the best player of all time) Ronaldo has also won three Ballon d’Ors during his time at Madrid and, at the age of 32, continues to perform at the very highest level.

VERDICT – Real knew they were investing in a supreme talent when they lavished £80m to sign Ronaldo, but even they probably didn’t realise just what he would go on to achieve.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo

 

13) 2013 – Gareth Bale – Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid – £86m

For the fourth time in a row, Real Madrid demonstrated their awesome spending power by breaking the world transfer record, this time to secure pacy Welsh winger Gareth Bale from Tottenham. Bale had emerged as a talented but raw young left-back at Southampton, before a move to Spurs that initially saw him struggle to make an impact. A move to a more advanced, wide attacking role saw Bale develop into a player whose frightening speed made him one of the most feared players in the Premier League. A Champions League hat-trick in the San Siro against Inter Milan in 2010/2011 announced the player onto the world stage.

By the time of his move to Spain, Bale had added real physical power to his game. The pace that was his trademark remained, but he had also discovered an eye for goal. However, despite this progress, Bale has never fully endeared himself at the Santiago Bernabéu. Often treated as a scapegoat and sometimes frustrated by injury, Bale’s Real career has sputtered, rather than roared, into life. Almost since the day he signed, he has been linked in the press with a move to Manchester United, though this has always been vehemently denied by the player himself. Despite these issues, Bale has scored some important goals for his club, including a Champions League final winner against city rivals Atlético, and his tally stands at a creditable 67 goals in 150 appearances at the time of writing.

VERDICT – Some of the criticism aimed at Bale from sections of the Real support has been harsh. It is debatable whether Bale has lived up to the tag of world’s most expensive player, but he has proven to be a qualified success in Spain.

Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale

 

14) 2016 – Paul Pogba – Juventus to Manchester United – £89m

The most recent world record fee was not without its share of controversy and intrigue, and involved Manchester United paying £89m for a player they’d allowed to leave for free just four years earlier. French midfielder Pogba’s departure from United in 2012 was acrimonious, with Sir Alex Ferguson critical of the emerging talent’s decision not to sign a new contract at Old Trafford. After signing for Juventus, Pogba developed into the engine at the heart of Italy’s dominant force, winning the Serie A title in each of his four seasons at the club. As his power and drive began to increase, Pogba also secured a regular berth in the French national side.

Meanwhile, Manchester United appeared to be crying out for a midfield general to help boost their waning fortunes, and there was some regret about letting Pogba leave so easily. When José Mourinho came to the helm in summer 2016, bringing the player back to Old Trafford became a priority, even if that meant breaking the world transfer record. Indeed, some reports suggested a bid in excess of £100m may be necessary to convince Juventus to part with a player they desperately wanted to keep. Pogba’s first season back in a red shirt saw United finish a disappointing sixth in the Premier League, but two trophies were secured in the shape of the Europa League and EFL Cup. Pogba came in for criticism, with many suggesting that his performances did not befit the world’s most expensive player. At 24, however, Pogba has plenty of time to raise his game.

VERDICT – Far too soon to say whether £89m is money well spent, but United will be looking for far more from Pogba than they saw in his first season back at the club, and will hope the recent signing of Nemanja Matić can free the player from his shackles.

Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba celebrates a goal with his teammates

 

A warning to PSG then: breaking the world transfer record doesn’t always guarantee success. As many of the above demonstrate, injuries can seriously disrupt even the most promising of careers, and some players just don’t shine as expected. Nevertheless, when a player lives up to the price tag, it usually equals trophies. If Neymar does make the switch to Paris, he will almost certainly dominate the French domestic scene. The success of the deal will be measured by what the club achieves in Europe. Bonne chance!

How it came to this…

The purpose of this site is to allow me to document my thoughts and experiences as an outsider living in Northern Ireland, as well as to reflect on the travel I do in general, and to share it with anyone who might happen to be interested. Certainly, there are far more places in the world that I want to visit than just the ones I have been to so far, but I thought I’d do a little run-down of some of those places I’ve been fortunate enough to make it to up to this point. Each and every one of them has been worth the effort and left a lasting impression.

United States (April 2000) 125px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svg

My first ever trip abroad was certainly an extravagant one! In spring of 2000, my high school embarked on a skiing trip to California which included a day’s sightseeing in San Francisco. I’d never been remotely interested in skiing before, but the trip as a whole seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. It’s unfortunate that, having been 15 at the time, I don’t have what I would call fully formed impressions – or even memories – of that adventure. I do recall being in awe of San Francisco in terms of its geography and location. I vaguely recall being a little disappointed with Alcatraz. And I definitely remember it feeling unseasonably cold for April as we explored the city under leaden skies on a day punctuated by occasional showers.

Although I enjoyed the skiing aspect of the holiday, it’s not something I would go out of my way to do again. For me, the experience of having my eyes opened to a new world and of meeting new people, allied to the breathtaking scenery of the Sierra Nevada mountains, will always be what stands out as the enduring part of the trip.

Spain (August 2002) Flag_of_Spain.svg

This would arguably have to be the least obviously adventurous travel experience I’ve yet had. At 17 and abroad for the first time without any kind of adult supervision, I wasn’t old enough for the bar scene. I stayed with a friend in the forgettable, slightly dreary resort of L’Estartit on the Costa Brava. (NB – I’m aware this is in Catalonia but have chosen to head the section with the name and flag of the sovereign state. No offence intended).

The undoubted highlight of this trip was Barcelona. One of the world’s great cities, I appreciated even at 17 that the day excursion we took was not long enough to experience it properly, but it was still worthwhile. As a football mad teen, our tour of the Nou Camp, home to FC Barcelona, was a highlight. We also went to see the team play a match – a Champions League qualifier (hard to believe they ever needed to play in one) against Legia Warsaw. As far as I could tell, a large section of the support that day were tourists like ourselves. I remember the passion, which seemed at times to border on barely-contained aggression, with which the opposition fans supported their team. Barca won easily, but I hardly remember the match. Sat at the very top of the cauldron-like stadium, the action took place far below – almost too far to properly follow. I spent most of my time gazing out at the landscapes beyond, marveling at how different life is far from the little slice of suburbia in which I grew up. I loved it up there. I think I’d have sat at the top of that stand for 90 minutes even without a match being on.

Greece (July 2003) Flag_of_Greece.svg

As relatively naive teenagers, myself and my friend perhaps allowed our travel agent too much say in where we ended up. We were adamant that, although we wanted to go to Greece, we were not too keen on the idea of the hedonistic resorts like Kavos or Malia. We ended up in the tiny resort of Skala Potamia on the less travelled island of Thassos in Greek Macedonia. Despite the lack of obvious diversions for two 18-year-old boys, the first nuggets of a truly independent sense of adventure began to appear here. It was in Thassos that I first exposed myself to a different cuisine, and Greek food is just wonderful. In particular, the fresh fish, caught and served up on the same day, sticks in the mind. You could talk to the very fishermen who, earlier on, had caught the sea bream you were feasting on that evening. This was also comfortably the hottest place I’d ever been, with temperatures easily reaching the mid-30s.

The scenery was majestic and the water was pleasantly warm and a beautiful blue. This remote corner of Greece is an idyll and the perfect place to relax.

Italy (October 2008 and September 2009) Flag_of_Italy.svg

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The Trevi Fountain in Rome

Italy is incredible. The people have such a relaxed attitude to life and yet, on the ground, everything moves so fast and with such a buzz. At least in the cities. The traffic can be utterly terrifying in a metropolis like Rome. The Italian capital gave me goosebumps. It’s an enchanting place, a living breathing museum. To explore Rome is to be transplanted back almost to another world while remaining at the heart of a vibrant, modern city. The Trevi Fountain swarms with tourists day and night, and it’s quite a cramped area – pickpockets must love it. But it is simply stunning, as ornate and intricate and beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen. Some say the Colosseum disappoints, but then that seems to get said about everything. Personally, I was suitably impressed. And the food is to die for. The pasta and pizza shouldn’t come as a surprise, but there’s so much more than that. But, for me, it was the ice cream that really stood out. There seem to be as many gelateria in Rome as there are ATMs in most cities, and each one of them without fail is serving little frozen cones of heaven. My waistline is grateful I don’t live in Rome, that’s for sure.

Mount Etna in Sicily on an unseasonably murky, misty late summer's day.

Mount Etna in Sicily on an unseasonably murky, misty late summer’s day.

You’d expect Sicily in late September to be a safe bet, weather-wise. Nothing could have prepared me for the storms. We just don’t get storms like that in northern England. You’d see them out at sea while the sun still beamed down on dry land, but before long you’d be cloaked in cloud and pelted with raindrops the size of cricket bats. The mixed weather aside, exploring Sicily was every bit as magnificent an experience as Rome was. In particular, I came away with fond memories of Catania, the first overseas city I’ve ever explored entirely solo and where I found the locals to be helpful and friendly almost to a fault. Palermo, too, is a rich experience with some of the most intriguing and invigorating food markets I’ve ever seen. The hilltop town of Erice offers breathtaking views, and there’s an abundance of historical sites as well.

Vatican City (October 2008) Flag_of_the_Vatican_City.svg

Standing in St Peter's Square in front of the Basilica.

Standing in St Peter’s Square in front of the Basilica.

You didn’t think I was going to hide the world’s smallest independent state in the Rome section, did you? I find the idea of a country this small fascinating, and yet there’s nothing small about the place when you’re stood in St Peter’s Square, a tiny dot surrounded by other equally awestruck tiny dots, trying to comprehend the scale of the Basilica and of the history and influence the place has had and continues to have. Everything about the Vatican is designed to impose and impress, and it certainly does. A tour taking in the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel is an absolute must. Don’t expect to take any pictures of Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling, though. They won’t let you!

India (September 2010) 125px-Flag_of_India.svg

The Taj Mahal - there are no words...

   The Taj Mahal – there are no words…

The only way to travel?

The only way to travel?

My first taste of the backpacking lifestyle was an assault on the senses in every way, and a huge step outside of my comfort zone. Nothing I’d done before in my life had the profound impact that India did. I feel truly grateful that I’ve been able to visit this remarkable country. But it was a challenge. The sticky September heat drains your energy non-stop. The hawkers and rip-off merchants invade your personal space on a daily basis. The traffic forces you to take your life into your hands. But it was worth it. The people were warm and friendly and incredibly inquisitive. The food was interesting. And the sites were like a dreamland.

We visited Rajasthan, touring the entire state, before heading to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and spending a couple of days in Delhi. Clearly, such a trip could take up a whole series of posts on its own. Alas, too much time has passed for me to do it justice. A trip to India is a life-changing experience. It takes a degree of courage, a thick skin and plenty of patience, but it’s a country that rewards the traveller prepared to maintain an open mind.

Cyprus (July 2012) Flag_of_Cyprus.svg (1)

Aphrodite's Rock is a surprisingly quiet location

Aphrodite’s Rock is a surprisingly quiet location

Having been to India, it comes as a surprise to some people that my favourite travel experience so far has been Cyprus. A jewel of the Mediterranean it may be, but it’s hardly off the beaten track. Nevertheless, I found it to be a revelation.

I’d always found the politics of the place interesting, and the experience of crossing the Green Line in Nicosia into an unrecognised but other wise fully-functioning country (the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) was a fascinating experience. There is so much more to Cyprus than the Ayia Napa scene for those who want it. Nicosia is an absorbing city that should be given more attention in the guidebooks, as should its museum. Larnaca offers the fun of Ayia Napa minus the wild side. Limassol is clean and tidy and Paphos, while catering strongly to the package holiday market, also possesses a UNESCO World Heritage site. Those who seek solitude can still find it on the wilderness of the Akamas Peninsula (though ecological issues mean you should consider carefully whether you really ought to go there), and there are plenty of deserted beaches, particularly on the north coast. Beyond the Green Line, the Turkish side is still being discovered as it opens up to the outside world. The best way I could sum Cyprus up is to say that everybody can find their own version of it, and come to love it.

The Netherlands (February 2013) 125px-Flag_of_the_Netherlands.svg

Feeling unwell on a typical Amsterdam street.

Feeling unwell on a typical Amsterdam street.

It’s a sad state of affairs when you tell people that neither drugs nor sex were on the agenda during a visit to Amsterdam and they ask you why bothered going, because it has so much more to offer than this. Those I travelled with were not particularly enamoured with the city, but I found it charming. It’s a shame I had a horrendous cold for the entire time I was there.

I tend to feel positive about almost anywhere that feels different to what I’m used to. Amsterdam, a short hop across the North Sea from home, certainly ticks that box. For a start, it doesn’t sound like most other cities. There’s very little traffic in the city centre, so the din of internal combustion engines is replaced by the clickety-clack of trams and the metallic rattle of Amsterdam’s ubiquitous bicycles. I found that fascinating. Much like Rome, it has the feel of a different world, especially when you also consider the canals, the bridges and the unique architecture. It’s a city I’d go back to as I feel there’s more to it than I saw in my flying visit.

France (April – September 2013) Flag_of_France.svg

Place Jean Jaurès, Castres.

Place Jean Jaurès, Castres.

In 2013, I moved to France for what was meant to be a permanent position. It’s hard to believe it only lasted five months, but it was a magical time in a beautiful little town. This deserves a post to itself, so I won’t say much more here other than that it’s a privilege to have been able to call Castres my home.