Experts + Insiders:
To be fair to Thomas Friese, he never stood a chance.
After all, more than a few B&R employees have completed their degrees and found themselves on the precipice of a promising (if traditional) career, only to decide to abandon the endeavour in favour of the slow road.
So Thomas can hardly be blamed for the fact that in his case, the slow road found him before the degree.
“I met someone with a B&R t-shirt in a café in Florence, on my way to an MBA exchange semester in Vienna,” he recalls. “I told him I knew the company from a travel agent friend in Vancouver; he gave me the idea of taking a year off and guiding for a season back in Tuscany before applying to work in marketing in the Toronto office.”
You can probably imagine how that went.
“I loved being back in Tuscany and Europe so much that I never did leave.” (Editor’s note: Can you blame him?)
Still on the road after all these years, Thomas now puts his years of experience as a guide and researcher to good use as one of our expert Trip Designers.
Years in Travel Business: 15
Years with B&R: 10
Countries/Regions of Expertise: Austria, Germany (Bavaria, Berlin, Saxony), Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia), Poland, Romania, Italy (Tuscany, Puglia, Dolomites, Veneto)
Countries visited: 75(ish)
Trips guided: “Just over 100 I think?”
Countries lived in: Born and raised in South Africa (Durban), lived in Canada (Vancouver), Italy (Florence) and Austria (Vienna)
Q&A with Thomas:
Everyone at B&R has their fair share of wanderlust. When/how did you first get bit with the travel bug?
After my first degree, I took time off and backpacked around the world for two years – Africa, India, Asia. This was all on just $20 per day – so a little bit less than a B&R trip!
What’s your preferred method for immersing yourself in a country or region?
Fall in love with a local girl (a Florentine, in my case) and learn about and enjoy local life with her (and her family!) for as long as it lasts. (Editor’s Note: For another B&R veteran, it was a Burgundian girl…)
What’s the best thing that ever happened to you while travelling?
Not surprisingly, it involves the aforementioned Florentine girl. I met her on the street in Bombay (now known as Mumbai), a few hours after landing. I was in India to study yoga and find the meaning of my life, but it turned out that this meeting was the real life-changer. It took me to Tuscany and Europe, and ultimately to B&R too.
Aright, let’s get into some favourites. What’s your favourite trip you’ve ever taken?
A private trip I guided from Vietnam to Cambodia. (Yes, yes, it was my last trip but nevertheless also one of the best ever!)
Favourite trip you’ve ever designed?
A private version of our Munich to Salzburg trip in 2007.
Favourite hotel in the world?
I’d have to say Schloss Fusch in Salzburg.
Favourite restaurant in the world?
Also in Salzburg actually: Ikarus, in Redbull’s Hangar 7.
Favourite bar/wine bar/watering hole in the world?
Procacci in Florence.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had? (And where was it?)
An eight-course tasting menu at the aforementioned Ikarus in Hangar 7, Salzburg with Luke-Dale Roberts, guest chef from a 2-star restaurant in Cape Town. Beyond sublime, and in such an unusual setting amidst all of Redbull’s craziest flying machines.
Favourite bottle of wine?
Are there any destinations you haven’t been to, but are dying to visit?
Cape Town – I was born in South Africa and, damn it, I’ve never been to what is described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and also an outdoor mecca!
What about places you have been? Describe a moment, story or anecdote from the road that you will never, ever forget.
Easy: day three of a canoe safari through Mana Pools National Park on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe.
Hot as hell, but no swimming allowed due to the crocs and hippos. Didn’t stop us! We came around a bend in the river and tapped on the side of the canoe with our paddles. This brings the hippos to the surface, so that we could steer clear of them. It (almost) always worked.
“Before we realized it, we were in the air – and then in the water. A bull hippo had come underneath the canoe and flipped it up into the air!”
Before we realized it, we were in the air – and then in the water. A bull hippo had come underneath the canoe and flipped it up into the air!
We swam like mad for the nearest shore, motivated by the single thought of crocs and hippos somewhere under the brown water. We made it to the Zambian shore, landing right by a small group of local men. The other canoes reached us in a few minutes, relieved to find us scared but alive.
But the adventure was not over.
When the others came ashore, they left their canoes on the bank. As we chattered away, behind our backs three or four of the locals went to our canoes and paddled off with two of them—including our food, tents, clothing, and all our supplies! The guide’s gun was also onboard. We could only watch as they landed further downstream and started going through our stuff.
After much protesting we had to leave without the canoes and equipment, putting four people in each of our remaining canoee. When we made it to the pickup the next day we learned that they were probably poachers.
Anyway, everyone was alive and unharmed and with a story that none would ever forget.
You’ve planned and guided a ton of trips. Which one (if you can narrow it down) are you most proud of?
I put together a private trip for one of B&R’s longtime travellers to the Baltics. This was before we had run any regular departures and had the infrastructure there, and the trip was running in a less than ideal season for the Baltics. But not only did it go off without a hitch, our traveller declared it was one of the top trips he had ever done with B&R. He even said (and I quote), “You guys really should be charging more for these trips”!
Do you have a favourite travel quote, mantra or words to live by?
It’s a Zulu greeting (I grew up in Zululand), “Hamba kachle, sala kachle.” Go well, stay well!