Sunday, 21 December 2008

Trains from Seat Sixty-One

Some words aside one of the useful links we have listed. The website that has mobilised slowmoves more than any other: Seat Sixty-One.

Full name The Man in Seat Sixty-One... (aka Mark Smith, the gentleman behind it) offers a refreshing change to websites generally, to travel 'sites particularly. Is the internet old enough to claim they don't make websites like they used to? I don't remember using any like this for sometime. It's straightforward and - from my experience - totally up to date and entirely accurate. Pages are long but and without any unnecessary words or features.

Trains have become comfortably my favourite means of transport. That appreciation of where you are going, city centre departures and arrivals (and everywhere in between), sometimes a bed or opening-window, seldom check in times, space to walkabout and classic architecture: St Pancras International, its sky blue steel structured roof, Lovers statue and all is a gem. There's so much to them, and that's without going in to what can go by the window during a journey. There's loads of websites offering train trip ideas and service, such as Great Rail Journeys.

Seat Sixty-One will tell you simply how to get from one place to the other around the World. It links to all the relevant websites where you can buy tickets (you can trust the times are correct). One of the beauties is that you can plan on a single site without having to tackle a number of websites with drop down boxes, loading times and premature options like facing forward or backwards.

slowmoves is about taking time but not getting bogged down. If you want to go by train to somewhere you might normally go by plane, Seat Sixty-One is the best place to start. It might just take you to finishing in a place you wouldn't have done otherwise.


Saturday, 20 December 2008

Seasonal pleasures

I love that each season brings its own unique colours, plants, foods, weather, activities. I crave change and variety in life so the changing seasons definitely keep me on my toes. Summer is an obvious one for me - warm summer nights, Barbecues and swimming in the sea. But northern European summers often disappoint due to high expectations and unpredictable weather.

The winter started early this year with magic (freakish) snow in October which really got me in the mood. We've had a particularly cold winter and I've felt myself slowing down, wanting to hibernate under the duvet with a hot cuppa. I'm feeling really attuned to winter's treats - they definitely compensate for the cold and dreary weather: log fires, candles, hearty meals, comfy wooly jumpers and mulled wine.

Macondo cafe on Camden Passage (photo by Jungle Drums)

When we do venture out in the cold, there are a multitude of cozy crowded cafes that invite us to share a warming drink and a good chat. Recently I spent a long slow afternoon at Macondo, a lovely latin cafe and eatery on Camden Passage in Angel. They'd adapted their menu to feature special 'festive' drinks like apple and ginger tea with mulled pears and cinnamon. Lots of pubs are also offering delicious mulled wine. But none match up to my mum's recipe - enjoy it...


1 bottle of red wine (inexpensive)
1/4 - 1/2 cup (50 ml - 100 ml) vodka (optional) or rum
5 - 20 whole cloves
1 large teaspoonful cardamom seeds
2 - 4 pieces (sticks) cinnamon
1 - 2 pieces ginger
Peel from half a lemon
1/2 - 1 cup (125 - 250 ml) sugar
1 large teaspoonful vanilla sugar
raisins & blanched almonds


Crush the cinnamon and cardamom. Peel the lemon. Put all the spices and peel into a glass jar with the vodka.
Cover. Leave overnight. Strain the vodka, discard the spices.
Soak raisins & almonds in vodka/rum (maybe just during the day – not as long as the spices?)
Mix the spiced vodka with the wine and sugar.
Heat all the ingredients in a large saucepan until steaming hot. Do not boil! Stir and taste.
If not sweet enough, add more sugar. If too sweet, add more wine.


Sunday, 14 December 2008

GR 20 and GR walking routes

"Bon courage!". Those words normally mean it's time for a deep breath. I learned that and a lot more during days on the trail of the famous GR 20 walking route across Corsica. Walkers going in opposite directions wishing each other the best ahead of a steep turn up or down. Last week I was looking ahead to skiing in the mountains, this week I have found myself looking back and while still with thoughts of mountains, its more of walking.

I was looking of pictures taken on a trip for which I joined a friend for the Northern half of the GR 20, which is considered one of the most rewarding walks in Europe. It can take more than two weeks to do the entire length.

My own experience was fantastic. I arrived in Ajaccio and caught a train winding up in to the mountains, to the small town of Vizzavona. I waited beside the track to meet my friend who had walked the week previous from Conca. Conca to Vizzavona is the flatter southern part of the GR20, albeit still some distance and challenge. North from Vizzavona to Calenzana, though, holds greater drama. At its most simple, it's stunning. The kilometres I trod over four days included all from barren stony mountain sides to lush wet forest trails, baking dry sheperds' stone walls to glistening snow. Highlights of the walk are certainly Cirque de la Solitude and views towards Golfe de Porto.

I wasn't dressed for snow in Corsica in August. Indeed the walk meant I also learned there is a lot more to Corsica than sun and a coast line. Things like that sound obvious but we don't always allow ourselves the opportunity to think about them. Rising abruptly from the Mediterranean shores is the back of a island known as the scented because of its rich covering of herbs and flora. The back is broad and full of suprise and contrast. Ski lifts to windswept and set trees. How easy it would be to go to Corsica and see, or smell, none of this. Not to mention the welcoming but hidden mountain refuges.

GR stands for Grande Randonnée in France, or Gran Recorrido in Spain. GR routes stretch across Europe and are easily recognisable by a familiar red and white marking. They do though vary in setting and standard, in terms of surroundings, difficulty and the facilities on routes. Research and planning are, as ever, essential. I walked on the Eastern end of the GR 10 - which stretches the length of the Pyrenees - earlier this year, before turning south on to the GR 11 towards Spain's Cap de Creus. The routes were again hugely scenic but without any of the stopping places (overnight or otherwise) that help make the GR 20 so special.

If GR routes are not enough then think about the longer European long distance paths.


Saturday, 6 December 2008

Thoughts to ski touring

It's always about this time that my thoughts turn to the Alps, and the thought of making a trip sometime in the New Year. Getting to Geneva from London is easy on the train via Paris. Thoughts this week were prompted by a friend emailing with a picture of this season's first snow.

I have been lucky to have skiied as much as I have over the years. I enjoy skiing even more though since I discovered ski touring. I have now done a week each of the last two years. Ski touring involves going up as well as down and provides the opportunity to appreciate what skiing is all about, at least for me: being in the mountains amongst the most stunning of scenery, exercising in pure air and harnessing the elements, leaving the noise of machinery and people behind (in fact, often down below). Strapping 'skins' (now a man-made fibred material) to the underside of the ski, which mean they 'stick' to the snow and therefore the skier can slide up a steady incline. Touring skis are much the same as downhill skis however have a slightly different binding for the boot, which allows the boot's heel to come up from the ski when walking up a slope. One can switch to downhill skiing by peeling off the skin and fixing the binding.

Ski touring normally takes place in the higher mountains, away from the pistes. The touring community is growing but almost secret in feel as you can go hours without seeing anyone before coming together with other tourers at a mountain refuge serving food or offering a warming open fire and bed. Routes vary from well trodden to chosing ones own. Last year I was with a fantastic private guide in Grand St Bernard, the first year was with ISM, with whom I am looking to go again, very possibly to do the famed Haute Route between Zermatt and Chamonix.

If you like skiing off piste and the idea of spending more time on skiies, and less on lifts, have a think about the benefits of touring.


Like a local

Strolling along the streets of a foreign city, I'm more alert, open to sounds, people, buildings and sights. I love observing locals in their everyday routines, which may seem banal to them but to me are totally engrossing. I often wonder what kind of lives they lead, jobs they do and houses they live in. I always enjoy staying with friends when I visit a new place (when I can) to get to know their favourite haunts, their neighbourhood, their friends.

like-a-local is a brilliant website that connects you to residents in various cities across the world to get a more personal and local perspective. It gives recommendations on where to eat, where to stay and offers personalised itineraries by local residents.

"...enjoy home-cooked meals, private home-stays and specially-tailored itineraries..."

You can embark on a bike tour of Amsterdam with a local through the different districts in Amsterdam, passing the famous canals, the local markets, and the chic Old South. Or if architecture floats your boat, you can join local architect Björn on his tour of Antwerp's Northern district. You can savour the varied Portugese cuisine (and get to know the hidden treasures) with locals Yve & Mario in Lisbon at their dining table.

This certainly beats guide books and tourist information centres. Why not hear it directly from someone who lives and breathes the city everyday?


Sunday, 23 November 2008

Taking time in the Basque Country

Applying slowmoves re-adjusts how we look at a journey. If we get there quick, we are more likely to want things quick while we are there. At least from my experience. On short holidays before slowmoves, I would be less likely to be spontaneous and considered any travel while away with reluctance. However on a trip to San Sebastian earlier this month, a two hour bus ride along the coast to Bilbao seemed like a short amount of time, considering it would open up two days in a place of intrigue, to which I had not been before. I had enjoyed the trains to San Seb from Paris, so a couple of hours more travel was no chore, and right to do given rain was falling on and on. Beside the Bay of Biscay during November!

The Guggenheim was stunning. The food market - Mercado de La Ribera - was another place certainly worth seeing. A great cafe inside it to sit amongst the stalls, the river to one side and Inglesia de San Anton, one of Bilbao's oldest churches, to another. The market also stands at the start of the 'seven streets' of original Bilbao, and not far from Plaza Nueva. Surrounded by old, old facades, Plaza Nueva offered us a couple of gems. To stay, check out the cheap and basic but full of character, Pension Manea. Somewhere-like we stumbled with heavy bags to find. Top floor and views on to red roofs and street below, but made by the owner who welcomed us like lost children! And on the corner of the Plaza was the fantastic Cafe Bar Bilbao. From it's tiles to the food, the Cafe holds an authenticity as real as the Basque people that frequent it.

It takes time to build places with as much character, it's certainly worth taking the time to find them.


Walking across England

All this talk at the moment of the credit crunch is forcing us to re-evaluate our current values and consumption overdrive. Some are aspiring and returning to a simpler life. We can see this in the current trend for slow travel, taking the time to enjoy the route and taking pleasure in the little things.

I read an article in the Guardian the other day about Ed, Will and Ginger, two brothers and one of their friends. They have mastered the art of slowmoves. Their mission: to travel across the UK by foot without any money or mobile phones. They sleep in the wild when night falls, forage for food and occasionally count on strangers' hospitality. They also sing folk songs in pubs and villages to entertain and have the occasional hearty meal. It's a wonderful tale of living close to the earth and moving away from modern day dependencies on money and technology.

Photograph by Martin Godwin in Guardian, 2008

In the media we are always hearing about the downfall of society, trust and humanity. If we went by what we see and hear in the media, we could think that the streets aren't safe enough to walk out your front door anymore. Ed, Will and Ginger have been pleasantly surprised by people's openness, hospitality and enthusiasm about their lifestyle.

"Ed, Will and Ginger's itinerant, slow-moving life might just point the way forward, at a time when ecological and financial challenges are forcing us to change the way we live. At present, Britain has the lowest levels of pedestrian travel and bicycle use in Europe. Twice as many trips are made by car as by walking and cycling, and from 1992 to 2004 the number of journeys by foot and bicycle declined by a fifth. All of this despite the fact that the average speed for cars across London remains at 11-13mph, roughly the same as it was at the beginning of the 20th century."

I don't know how many people could (or would) drop everything (job, house, family) and take a year out to walk to Scotland, but hats of to these guys. I love the idea of it and whilst I may not walk all the way to Scotland, I will at least attempt to walk to another city from London one day.


Saturday, 15 November 2008

Not flying for a year

My personal discovery of the joys of slowmoves was led by a commitment to not flying for a year, something I will come back to in future posts. My thought at the time being, if I do all I can to minimise the carbon I am responsible for at home, why do I excuse in using an aeroplane for travel? How much recycling would I actually have to do to offset my last flight? A flight back home to London from San Jose, Costa Rica. It’d take more than that and being a vegetarian! I thought I would struggle, but that was now two years ago, and I am still without any plans to get on an aeroplane. It’s not to claim I will not fly again. I don’t know what future plans will be, but I do know that to enjoy travel as much as I do, is likely to lead me to places I cannot reach in reasonable time by other modes. That said, to enjoy travel as much as I do, is the single biggest reason I have grown with slowmoves; taking the time to recognise the enjoyment of the journey, not always being preoccupied by the destination.

I hope you will find Anouk and my pages as fun and evoking as they have been in our thought towards beginning with them,


Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Pilgrimage

I've just finished reading one of Paulo Coelho's first books 'The Pilgrimage', published in 1986. It is a very personal account of his own spiritual journey of walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (also known as The St James Way) in Spain, a famous historical pilgrimage that is still popular today.

Accompanied by his guide Petrus, Coelho walks the whole length of the road over a period of several weeks, only pausing to sleep in the various villages dotted along the route. As part of the journey, Coelho has to do a number of meditation exercises (that are defined in each chapter) and is faced with many physical and mental challenges. I liked the slow pace of the book and it got me thinking how liberating it would be to be a pilgrim and walk for weeks on end.

Here are a couple of my favourite quotes:

"Time isn't something that always proceeds at the same pace. It is we who determine how quickly time passes."

"Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside you."

The camino de Santiago de Compostella has existed for over 1000 years and was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages in medieval times. Tradition has it that the remains of the apostle St James the Great are buried in Santiago. You can start the journey from anywhere in Europe, but the most common route is the Camino Frances which starts in St Jean Pied de Port and finishes in Santiago de Compostela about 780Km later, after traveling along the north of Spain.

Increasingly, the route is attracting a modern day 'pilgrim' that embarks on the road for the joys of slow travel and the challenge of weeks of walking in a foreign country. Pilgrims can buy a pilgrim's passport to get stamped in each town they visit and which allows them to stay in special pilgrim hostels along the way. Once (if) they reach Santiago, they can get a certificate to say they've accomplished the pilgrimage.
There's something really appealing to walking towards a common goal and it may just be something I'll attempt in my lifetime.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Country retreat in Devon

Over the past few months I've been focusing on exploring England, partly due to lack of time, partly because there are so many wonderful places to visit within close-ish distance to London. St Ives (Cornwall), Bisley (Gloucestershire), Alfriston (East Sussex), Haslemere (West Sussex) are just some of the amazing places I've ventured to in the past year.

A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I headed for a country break to Devon for a long weekend. We caught the train bright and early on a gorgeous friday morning and before too long we were driving along the tiny country lanes in East Devon in search of our bed & breakfast. Listening to BBC Devon and watching field after field and horses and cows go by, we felt ourselves slowly being de-Londonised... There it was our turning along a tiny dirt track, past the nearest 'village' Southleigh which consisted of a post box and village noticeboard. We passed a few farms and lovely converted barns and finally drove up the driveway to our bed & breakfast Glebe House, sitting beautifully on top a hill. My kind of place. Breathtaking views of the valley and surrounding farmhouses, wooden table and chairs for that night cap (or in my case peppermint tea) in the evening, and a welcoming host. I'd only just gotten there and I was already dreading leaving. Our host served us tea and cookies in the conservatory and then showed us to our room upstairs with views of the garden. It was a perfect location for exploring the nearby villages, beaches and Moors. We spent a day at the beautiful beach town Lyme Regis, a day in the wild and rugged Dartmoor national park and a day in idyllic and hip town of Totnes.

I'm all about staying local, and luckily there are seemingly never ending options in this very country...

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Welcome to slowmoves

The journey has been slow, but then it couldn't have been any other way... We want to build a community of like-minded travellers who want to rediscover and enjoy the essence of travelling.

We are ushered to travel the same way, to the same places. Indeed, we have become used to only appreciating where we are going, not how we got there. We'd like to take the time to watch the world go by, observing, commenting, analysing people and sceneries on our way. Once we get there, we want to immerse ourselves in the local culture, chatting to locals, trying local dishes, and staying in guesthouses rather than big chain hotels. Some people call it 'slow travel'. We call it slowmoves.

Are you interested in Slowmoves? We'd love you to join us in sharing your experiences and promote the reasons for moving slower, whether they be environmental, social or economic. Read on about our journeys, trips, tips and adventures. Do leave us a comment or get in touch if you'd like to contribute. Enjoy the journey.

Anouk & George