Storyteller Jonny Blair | Don’t Stop Living – A Lifestyle of Travel

Tell us a bit about yourself! Why do you love travel? How do you think travel unites us or teaches us more about the world?

My name is Jonny Blair. I grew up in the town of Bangor in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. I love the adventure of travel – everyday can provide you with a new experience, meeting new people, seeing new cultures and learning about the world. Travel unites us and teaches us – every day is a learning curve. We have a lot to learn and we are perpetual students.

Can you tell us something about the culture in your country and why did you decided to stay there? 

My country is Northern Ireland, and we are almost 100 years old as a nation (it will be in 2021). I don’t live there any more, but I am a proud Northern Irishman. We have a good mix of Protestant and Catholic influences and the people are hard working and proud, despite what the media tries to report. There might be a divide sometimes, but we are a happy bunch of people with some good local heroes to be proud of.

However, I am currently in Poland and I love it here. I first visited Poland in 2005 to watch a Northern Ireland football match. I have worked with Polish people a lot down the years and have good friends in most major cities in Poland. In 2015, I returned to visit Poznan before settling in Gdansk in 2016. I love the history of Poland and the fact that Poles are very proud, reserved and intelligent. Their country was removed from the map in the past and they were obliterated by Germans and Russians down the years, yet they remain strong and passionate. The people are wonderful and I thank Kasia, Zuza and Rafal for being such good friends here.

I originally planned to travel to Kyrgyzstan in 2016 to settle in Bishkek but due to my connection with a Polish girl Ola Mueller, I ended up staying in a twist that she could never have predicted. It’s a safe and comfortable place to live.

Jonny Blair at Petra in Jordan
Jonny Blair at Petra in Jordan

What surprising aspect of culture do you love about your country (or your specific town/city) that travelers may not be aware of?

Northern Ireland has the uniqueness of allowing local people to choose an Irish or British identity. The history has brought the country together, with hopefully a brighter future. I liked people to mix and feel pride at being Northern Irish rather than to feel they need to be either classed as British or Irish. We are Northern Irish. We are different.

With my current home of Poland, I love that it is nationalistic and proud of itself and that Poland is not being heavily influenced or coerced into foreign beliefs. I love it when a culture remains intact and that is the case here.

Which dish do you feel best represents where you’re specifically from? Share a picture and tell us why you love it!

Northern Ireland’s national dish is the Ulster Fry – a huge all day breakfast with bacon, black pudding, potato bread, soda bread, sausages, eggs and other options to go with it. Wash it down with a cup of the Nambarrie Tea and you can’t go wrong.

In Poland, I am addicted to Pierogi, again I feel it is a national dish for Poles. You can put whatever you want inside the Pierogi, though I prefer pork and black pudding inside.

Growing up in your country, what’s something that you believe makes it unlike anywhere else in the world? 

In Northern Ireland, we have 1.6 million people. I don’t think there is a country anywhere else on the planet of this size to have produced so many world number ones in sport or music. In the past we have had the best footballer in the world (George Best), golfer (Rory McIlroy), snooker player (Alex Higgins), boxing (Carl Frampton) and motorcyclist (Joey Dunlop). Music wise, Snow Patrol, Van Morrison, Ash and the Undertones all grew up in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

In the 1982 World Cup, we beat Spain 1-0 to top the group and finish in the World’s Top 12. There is a pride, there is a passion, there is something magical in the Northern Irish air.

Talk about the role of family in your life. What does family mean to you? Which family values are valuable to you? 

Irish and British culture is strong on family and I grew up living with my family and visiting my cousins, grandparents every week until I was about 18. Once you get older and become more independent, the family plays less part in proceedings but I know we miss each other. I just chose a path to travel the world. Sometimes I doubt if I made the best move or not, as it leads to depression sometimes.

How important is spirituality and religion in your daily life? What do you do to celebrate the two? 

Upper Trail Hike, Yunnan, China lifestyle of travel
Upper Trail Hike, Yunnan, China

I’m not so big into spirits though I have tried yoga, pilgrimage hikes, and nudist culture on my journeys as a way to learn more about body, mind and soul. Religion wise, I believe in God and I attend churches around the world to pray alone and be at ease with my personal beliefs and my own duty to God.

Share about a custom/tradition you observe. What makes it special?

Not so much a custom or tradition but on my journey, I try to talk to and make friends with as many people as I can. The problem with this later on, is sometimes we cannot trust people. It makes it special as I have friends in over 150 countries around the world and probably over 500 cities too. It is good for world peace and spreading the love.

Art and dance can tell a deeper story about local culture. Tell us the story of a specific artwork or dance that has a meaning for you. Share a photo, if you can. (It can be anything from street art to a festival to a painting to architecture to woven art work, to woodworking, a family heirloom, etc.)  

I’m not a big dancer so I have included a photo of me in Swaziland in 2011 doing a Sibhaca dance. It was a good time of my life.

Languages not only give us the power to communicate, but also can unite us across cultures. What’s something you love about the multitude of languages spoken in your country? Share a favorite saying you have, or teach us something in your native language. 

“Yer man’s a quare geg so he is” – this is a Northern Irish way of saying something like “that guy is crazy” or “he thinks he’s funny.”

What local spot in your city/town do you love most? Why is it personally important to you? 

Starogard Gdanski, Poland lifestyle of travel
Starogard Gdanski, Poland

It used to be the Windsor Bars in Bangor, Northern Ireland but it’s closed now. I like Socialist and Communist themed bars in Poland. I used to go to Projekt PRL in Starogard (but it’s closed now) so Jozef K and No to CYK in Gdansk and two favourites. History should be remembered and shown to younger people. I hate those who shy away from it.

Who is the most inspiring person in your life? In which ways does this person inspire you? 

My Mum. Because she is always loving and caring and never asks for anything back. My Mum never does anything for herself. She has spent her whole life caring for other people. You will never find a better lady than my Mum, Muriel Blair. I love her.

Have you ever met a stranger during your travels who made an impact on your life in a certain way, or maybe it was you who helped someone else? Share the story! 

I have too many stories like this and they have impacted negatively or positively. The most inspiring “beautiful stranger” is without doubt Panny Yu – the Hong Kong girl that I met in Antarctica in 2010 and dated for 5 years before we went our separate ways. Panny and I visited over 40 countries together, backpacking hardcore and touring all 7 continents together. It will be hard for me to ever meet a girl more adventurous than Panny Yu.

On the negative side, Polish tourist Ola Mueller had a bad influence on me. She was a local lady who sadly didn’t want to help me during a depressing time for me, especially when I toured her region and was asking for travel tips, this was an insult to me and my travel business at the time. You live and learn.

Unfortunately, stereotypes exist in the world. What are some common misconceptions you’ve heard about your country? What is considered disrespectful in your culture that visitors should be aware of? 

People think that we hate the British or we hate the Irish. There is not a clear divide at all and I wish people could be content with the label of “Northern Irish”, certainly with the football team doing well, the new Titanic Centre and heroes like Rory McIlroy and Carl Frampton flying the flag, we have reasons to be cheerful.

It’s not a terrorist war zone either, but our wall murals are worth checking out. The past is done.

Try and respect that some people are nationalist and Catholic and others are loyalist, unionist and Protestant. Don’t pre-judge people. Meet people on both sides and listen to their standpoint. We’re politically aware and we like to talk about it over a cold pint of Harp or Guinness in Belfast City.

unnamebbbd  Travel Writer at http://dontstopliving.net/

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