Monday, September 18, 2006

Travelling hopefully

The Slow Food movement seems to be gaining ground; hard on the heels of this success I should like to propose a new Slow Travel movement.

Let's face it--air travel has become an endurance test. Way back, when I was a girl of, oh, maybe twelve or so, the family travelled to the Channel Islands. These are geographically (and architecturally) part of France and lie amid some of the trickiest navigation in the Channel, off the coast of Normandy. They were occupied by the Germans in WWII; possession of radios was streng verboten, and the Brits used to dismantle them and secrete them in teapots.

But I digress. Back then the plane was a seven-seater made of what my Dad liked to call "canvas and dope". Air travel was an Event. Passengers strolled out onto the apron and climbed aboard. No security, no waiting, nothing but politeness all round. Very amateur, looking back on it. At the destination--Alderney--we'd have to circle a time or two while an anxious herdsman ran, frantically waving, after the cows, to get them off the grass airstrip. (Yes, they were Guernsey cows.)

Look where we are now: arrive two hours ahead for domestic flights; show all kinds of ID, get grilled about your bags; remove all the little items that make a trip pleasant, find the security lineup that's moving the fastest, line up in the chicane like a herd of cattle in an abattoir, take off your shoes, run your bags through the scanner, find a food shop to get a meal to take on board, walk 2 km to the gate. Not that I'm not grateful for all the precautions, and quite see the necessity for them...but do you see what I'm getting at? There comes a point where the trip itself, especially for a vacation, for heaven's sake, becomes a deterrent.

Enter slow travel. I've just returned from a rail trip across Canada--Cornwall, Ontario, to Vancouver in style, stopping off in Jasper, just because not to stop in Jasper would have been a crime. I tell you, this is the way of the future; there's time to look around and take in all that incredible scenery; an opportunity to meet and talk to other people you wouldn't normally take the time to get to know; lavish meals served on real china with real knives and forks (no chance of pronging the engineer to death here) at a table with a damask cloth, by cheerful homegrown staff who live in cities along the route. In short, an adventure of a most agreeable kind.

So if you can swing it, consider a slow trip sometime. It'll transform you from a tourist to a traveller.


Tricia Dower said...

I like the sound on that train ride! Thanks for such a lovly post.

Susannah said...

Yeah, I take trains. I know slow trips. I've taken slow trips from Bracknell to London, calling at every piddling little town in between while the minutes tick away and my bladder becomes increasingly strained because all the toilets are full of teenagers blagging rides. I've taken scenic routes between London and Bristol, when considerate engine drivers have halted the train in a meadow for an hour on end so that passengers can contemplate the view. I've taken seven-hour odysseys that take drivers two hours and cost three times as much as a flight. Don't talk to me about slow.