You probably haven't noticed, but I haven't had much to do with putting out the Herald Travel section for the past few months. Around the middle of the year my wife, Chris, and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a month-long trip to Italy and France. Shortly after our return, I had a heart attack, followed by heart surgery, which kept me out of the office for a further three months.
Fortunately I was still able to write stories for much of that time and I had quite a few articles already written, so I have been able to maintain a presence in the paper. But the excellent Travel sections you've enjoyed have actually been put together by Donna McIntyre and Bruce Morris.
For me, all that enforced rest has provided time for a bit of reflection. For example, I've thought a lot about how lucky I was to have my heart attack in a restaurant in Devonport, where the ambulance team was able to arrive and start treatment within 15 minutes, rather than at Tengboche in the Himalayas, or even while cycling round the back roads of Provence, where skilled help would have been a bit harder to find.
The incident has also acted as a timely reminder of the importance of having good travel insurance. I had thought I was perfectly fit; there were no warning signs of impending heart trouble, but it turned out I was a health time bomb which could have exploded anywhere.
Imagine if I'd had the heart attack in Los Angeles Airport, which we passed through on the way to Europe, but didn't have travel insurance because I thought I was too healthy to need it? I suspect the cost of treatment would be enough to bring on another heart attack.
Most of all, being forced to stay home has underlined how much I enjoy travelling; experiencing different cultures, historic places, spectacular landscapes, amazing wildlife, distinctive styles of food and wine, great art, impressive architecture and interesting people.
During a recent visit to Britain, for instance, I was fascinated to visit the historic town of Haworth, on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors, where the extraordinary Bronte sisters lived and wrote their unique novels (an experience which is the subject of this week's cover story).
Afterwards, as we drove back across the moors to the farm cottage where we were staying, we passed the ruins of a huge stone house standing forlornly in the gloom, snow started to fall, and as the wind whipped the flakes into a howling blizzard, it was easy to imagine we could hear a plaintiff voice outside calling "Heathcliff, Heathcliff" - and to see how Emily Bronte was inspired to write Wuthering Heights.
Doubtless that was all the result of an overactive imagination but, nevertheless, it is just one of the many amazing travel experiences that live on in my memory, providing a powerful incentive to look for the next destination.
Probably the place I'd most like to go to next is Iran, an amazing country with a magnificent history, rich culture and spectacular architecture - not to mention a somewhat controversial ruling regime of which I'd like to form an opinion for myself.
As it happens, I'd have been there last month, as a guest of the Iranian Government, if it hadn't been for my heart attack. Pity.
Thinking about it reminds me of the T-shirt put out by the publishers of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, which proclaimed "So many places, so little time." Very true. So there's no time to waste. When am I allowed to spread my wings again?
- Jim Eagles
Pictured above: Iran has a magnificent history, rich culture and splendid architecture. Photo / AP