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Celebrity Travel: Go Away With Charles Elton

By Jae-Ha Kim, Tribune Content Agency on

Author Charles Elton says he loves living in his house by the sea in Somerset, England. But when he takes a vacation, he heads for Los Angeles. "Everyone in England is very snobbish about Los Angeles, saying there's no culture, it's movie orientated (and you have to) drive everywhere," says Elton, whose latest book is "The Songs" (Other Press, $24.95). "A few years ago, I rented a house in the Hollywood Hills for the summer and took my children. People were amazed I didn't rent a villa in Tuscany like everybody in England does. My answer was that the Hollywood Hills look like Tuscany, the food is better, there are first-run movies and shopping malls. What's not to like?"

Q. To someone who was going to Los Angeles for the first time, what would you recommend that they do during their visit?

A. In Los Angeles, I always head to Paradise Cove, about 20 miles beyond Malibu. It's a way off the road and amazingly deserted. The Pacific is gorgeous there, and there's a great old-fashioned hamburger joint. I also like going to see the Hollywood sign. It's like a mirage. You can see it, but it's almost impossible to reach.

Q. What untapped destination should people know about?

A. In London, there's a completely unpublicized (Greenwich) Foot Tunnel under the River Thames. It is like a small subway tunnel and takes about 10 minutes to walk through. Few people use it and it's a strange and rather spooky experience. At the other side you come up into Greenwich, which is one of the most beautiful and historic parts of London.

Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?

A. When I was four, my parents rented a house by the beach in Hornbaek, Denmark -- a very exotic thing to do in the 1960s. (It was) windy and beautiful and rainy, so it was no different from an English summer.

Q. Have you traveled to a place that stood out so much that you felt compelled to incorporate it into your work?

A. My first book, "Mr. Toppit," is partly set in Los Angeles and involves skinny-dipping at Paradise Cove. "The Songs" is partly set in Israel, where I once lived on a kibbutz.

Q. What's the most important thing you've learned from your travels?

A. Don't pack clothes for every day you're away. There are dry cleaners and washing machines almost everywhere. If there aren't, just wear the same clothes and use deodorant.

Q. If you've ever gone away for the holidays, which was the best trip?

A. I have never been anywhere other than our house in the country. We have a 20-foot Christmas tree and huddle around log fires, because there is no heating. Don't leave a glass of water by the side of the bed, because it will freeze.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?

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A. I'm not that fond of the countryside, so I would rather go to a city like Venice or Rome. I do have a weekend place in the English countryside that was built in the 13th century, but I hate walks, so I don't leave the house much.

Q. Where is the most romantic destination?

A. New York. There's so much buzz and excitement that it can revive a flagging romance. If it's going well, you can go to the top of the Empire State Building and pretend you're in "Sleepless in Seattle."

Q. What are your five favorite cities?

A. Los Angeles, New York, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Venice.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. A red suitcase that can't be mistaken for anyone else's when the luggage goes round at the airport.

Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you're on the road?

A. Reading the kind of magazines I would never read at home -- nerdy computer magazines, People, Entertainment Weekly and food magazines.

Q. What is your worst vacation memory?

A. A boat in Turkey on which there was no fridge. The food sat in an icebox for two weeks, even though the ice melted on the first day.


(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at You may also follow "Go Away With..." on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)



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