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.