Friday, 27 March 2009

Picture of the Month

This month's picture of the month links with the website, specifically and their Photo competition. The website also invites photos being sent in, and exhibits some great shots. We share in their picture for March 2009!

The intro starts "A spot of bother on the main road between Uyuni and Oruro in Bolivia".

A road I remember from a visit in 2002!


Cross country skiing

I write this from a sandwich shop in the French Alps having crossed over from Switzerland in the hope of skiing the Vallee Blanche way up above the town of Chamonix. The weather has though dictated what I do again, hence the sandwich shop as opposed to being on and in amongst glaciers under the gaze of the formidable Mont Blanc.

I say the weather dictates again as I found myself doing something different to planned yesterday also. As nice as this sandwich shop is (playing blue grass good and loud), yesterday's alternative to ski touring was more satisfactory. From staying in Le Chable at around 800m above sea level, I caught the bus to a stunning small village called Champsec. It always amazes me how little a distance we have to travel to find ourselves outside of the company and atmosphere of fellow tourists. Particularly in mountain valleys where foreign interest seems to stop at the last turning to a big ski resort. Champsec is a 20 minute bus ride on from the turning to Verbier. I swapped a glossy mass-produced piste map for a hand drawn one.

Champsec has a cross country skiing course with two modestly sized loops, one of 3km, the other of 5km. Cross country skiing far from always happens in short loops and arguably is at its best when done long, from cabin to cabin. As regular visitors to slowmoves may have read, I have written previously about ski touring and all the joys it offers, not least the appreciation of where one is. Yesterday reminded me what I like about cross country skiing. It's good exercise on snow - calling on every major muscle group - and invariably comes with a still and silent countryside setting (from limited experience - Champsec and also in Norway (where cross country skiing is called langlauf), cross country skiing best takes place in sheltered surroundings). There is something medative that happens when you get a rythm of striding out. Like going for a good walk, or run, in a place away from roads, traffic and people. You don't have to think, you can just do. And for some reason snow makes the air nicer to breathe!

The slowmoves case goes deeper. Cross country skiing offers a great alternative to the more popular downhill skiing. It's a far cheaper option (equipment, insurance and normally no pass required) and there is a broader selection of places to do it. Plus higher potential for adventure. You don't have to be in the mountains.

If you need a goal, how about the Vasaloppet?


Sunday, 22 March 2009

Tales from the rails in America

"I think all Americans should take the train once, it would do wonders for the American spirit", says Jackie, a traveler aboard a cross-country train in America. Jackie is one of the 5 travelers who shares her story and appreciation for train travel in one of the brilliant short videos for the New York Times article 'Riding the rails'.

Train travel may be a routine occurrence here in Europe, but in the US, where the distances are vast and a large majority drive their cars everywhere, train travel is rare. But with global warming becoming a more mainstream concern and Obama focusing on better public transport, rail travel is gaining popularity.

Jackie points out that people talk to each other more on trains - it's normal to ask fellow passengers where they're going, where they've come from and just enjoy watching the changing landscapes together from the observation deck. In tune with the slowmoves ethos, one man, Gerald calls it therapeutic because it's less fast-paced. As opposed to the airplane, or even the car, you can watch farmlands, desserts and rivers, observe the changing seasons and comfortably walk through the carriages.

The Cardinal
This U-shaped train journey takes you from New York to Chicago, taking 27 hours and stopping 31 times at many of the hot spots of American history - Baltimore, Washington, Cincinatti...
Fares start at $84

The California Zephyr
Runs daily from Chicago all the way to Emeryville, California. It can take less than 4 days and passes through the Rocky mountains, the Nevada dessert and the Sierra Nevada.
Fares start at $145

All photos from New York Times:

One of the most beautiful train journeys I ever took was along the coast from Marseilles in France to Nice. There's something so dreamy and inspiring about seeing the coastline change little by little. What are some of your favourite train journeys?


Sunday, 15 March 2009

Cycling and wine tasting in Burgundy

I've always had a vision of cycling through vineyards and stopping in little wine villages to go wine-tasting. Well that's exactly what I did last week in the wonderful region of Burgundy in France with my boyfriend. Burgundy, the region known for wine, mustard, Cassis, and meat was an easy sell, and the fact that it was only 2 hours from Paris made it all the more attractive.

We took the Eurostar from Kings Cross St Pancras in London and 2 hours later we were having an (expensive) coffee at a typical french cafe across from Gare du Nord in Paris. We spent a couple of days exploring Paris before heading east to Beaune, a picturesque town in the middle of Burgundy. You can catch the TGV from Gare de Lyon to Beaune via Dijon which takes about 2 and a half hours in total.

Where we stayed...
A lovely bed & breakfast about 20km from Beaune and right near a famous wine village called Nuits-Saint-Georges. Val de Vergy is a massive old country house build of stone, that has 4 unique bedrooms, a swimming pool and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and neighbouring horses. It meets all the criteria that I listed in my previous post about unique places to stay. The house was built in 1680 by a wine-maker. The current owners, Brigitte and Dominique, have been living there for 40 years, having bought it as young newlyweds when it was just a ruin without running water or electricity. You can read all about their inspiring story in the memory book they made for all the guests to read in the breakfast room.

Our room was absolutely lovely, with wooden beams and a huge bathroom with free-standing bath. Brigitte laid out a yummy breakfast of farmhouse baguette, homemade jams and honey and fromage frais every morning in the common room where all the guests eat together.

The cycling bit...
On the first day, I was determined to fulfill my vision of cycling through the vineyards and that's just what we did. We headed into Beaune and rented bikes across from the train station (watch out, EVERYTHING is closed between 12 and 2!) and off we went on the 'velo-route' through the vineyards. The bike route was 22km there and 22km back, on special roads through the vines and going through the famous wine villages of Pommard, Volnay, Meursault. It was stunning scenery and we kept thinking it would be even better at the height of spring or during harvest season. I would recommend bringing a picnic and stopping off for a bite amidst the vines.

The wine bit...
So now on to the wonders of wine-tasting. We decided not to combine wine-tasting with cycling as we may never have gotten back to Beaune! We did a wine course at Sensation Vin in Beaune which was really eye-opening. I've loved red wine for a while now but I have to admit I don't know much about it: the different grapes, regions, appellations, etc. In an hour, the teacher managed to cram in all the basics and had us try ('deguster') 6 different wines. By the end, we understood the different 'Appellation d'origine controllees' (AOCs) which ranged from Grand Cru to more regional appellations. We could also distinguish between the different tastes, smells, and colours and start to understand the reasons behind them.

This gave us a good basis for our real wine-tasting experience at the oldest wine cellars in Beaune 'Patriarche' which span for 5km underground. Just imagine 5km of wine bottles ranging from 1904 to today. We wandered through the dark corridors lined with thousands of perfectly arranged bottles to find the tasting area where we sampled all of 13 wines. I had to learn the art of 'deguster' (spitting out the wine after you taste it), otherwise I don't think I would have come back up.

The last night we went to eat at a real local restaurant in Villars-Fontaine 'L'auberge du Coteau' and had an amazingly tender Cote de Boeuf and of course some local wine. It was quite hilarious because we bumped into everyone that night: our hosts at the b&b, 2 of the restaurant owners where we ate on the other nights and the other guests in our b&b. That's when we knew we were eating at the right place.


Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Two return tickets from £90 on Eurostar

The Times newspaper has a fantastic offer going on. So good I am pretty much just writing that which they have... A return trip for two on Eurostar to a selection of destinations from just 90 quid. The offer will take you between (and back) London and Paris, Lille or Brussels.

A couple of conditions:

- offer is only valid to travel from 24 March until 8 August 2009
- to book your return trip for two, you need four passwords, collectable up until this Sunday, 15 March

slowmoves can't do much more than support or inspire a trip between the above dates (booking lines opened yesterday) BUT we can help with the passwords:

1. Chocolate
2. Experience
3. Adventure
4. Escape

Four passwords are enough to book although there are more featuring in the Times, up until this weekend... if you feel you should be buying the Paper to take advantage of the offer!

For more details, or to book, go to:

Tell us how you go.


Picture sourced from

From London to the Caucasus by train

Photo of Batumi Tbilisi train by Alex

The following is an itinerary for travelling from the U.K. to the Caucasus by train!
The main leg of this week-long journey will take you, comfortably ensconced in a succession of sleeper compartments, to Tbilisi, the capital of the (now unfortunately notorious) Republic of Georgia, from where you could easily hop up into the highest mountains in Europe and get blind-drunk with shepherds in fortified mediaeval towers well out of the range of any mobile telephone network!
(You might find it useful to follow this itinerary on the Google Map I have created for it, which you can see here.)


Day 1

Head to London's St. Pancras International railway station, and catch the 10:57 Eurostar high-speed train to Brussels (Bruxelles-Midi); your Eurostar arrives at 14:03 local time (GMT+1). Head into town, and enjoy a nice lunch washed down with Belgian beers, then make your way back to Bruxelles-Midi station and catch the 17:25 Thalys high-speed train to Köln (Cologne), which arrives at Cologne's magnificent Hauptbahnhof at 19:45. A quick change of platform, and you will be in your compartment on board the 20:06 sleeper to Vienna!

Day 2

The sleeper from Brussels arrives in Vienna's Westbahnhof at 09:04 (GMT+2). You will have all day to visit Vienna, so there is no need to hurry! Leave your suitcase in a locker, and head into town. You need to be back at the Westbahnhof in time to catch the 18:50 sleeper to Sofia.

Day 3

After having travelled all day and all night, the sleeper from Vienna arrives in Sofia at 17:40. You will only have two hours before the sleeper to Istanbul departs, so it would probably be best to stay close to the station. The train to Istanbul leaves at 19:30.

Day 4

Your train will arrive in Istanbul's Sirkeci station at 08:00 (GMT+3), and this is where it gets tricky: Sirkeci station is on the European side of the Bosphorus, and your connecting train (which will take you across Anatolia) leaves from Istanbul's Asian railway station, Haydarpaşa, at 08:35. Even by taking the direct boat across to the station, I doubt it is possible to make it in time for the train... So it is extremely likely that you will have to spend a night in Istanbul. (My personal recommendation would be the "Chill Out" Hostel next to the Galata Tower: Central, comfortable, and cheap!)

Day 5

The "Mountain Express" sleeper train leaves Istanbul's Haydarpaşa station at 08:35, and crosses Anatolia in about 40 hours, via Eskişehir, Ankara, Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan, and Erzurum. Your destination is the bleak town of Kars, a frontier-town in north-eastern Turkey where the train "terminates". (It used to continue to Armenia.)

Photo of the views from the Istanbul to Kars train by Alex

Day 6

The sleeper pulls in at Kars' railway station at 22:00. Take a taxi, and head into town to find a hotel for the night. I recommend the Güngören Otel – good value for money. Have dinner and go to bed early, as you will need to get up for an early start!

Day 7

Head for Kars' otogar (bus station), where you need to find either an otobus (bus) or dolmuş (minibus) to take you to the town of Hopa on the Black Sea coast, via Ardahan and Artvin. This journey takes around 6 hours. From Hopa, you can either take a taxi or a minibus to the border with Georgia, which you will cross on foot before continuing by either taxi or minibus to Batumi, Georgia's second-largest city. Batumi's railway station is slightly out-of-town, in a nearby village with the rather amusing name of Makhindjauri ("Child of [the] Ugly [person]"). The sleeper from Batumi to Tbilisi leaves at around 22:00 (GMT+4).

Day 8

The sleeper from Batumi arrives at Tbilisi's railway station at around 08:00 local time. From Tbilisi, you can either take the sleeper to Baku (8 hours) or to Yerevan (15 hours).

Tbilisi, Georgia (

There is no single website which can provide you with all the timetabling information you would need for this journey.

The Man in Seat 61 can help you with the London-Istanbul stretch, but after that, you will have to resort to the Turkish State Railways website, whose English version can be found here. Essentially, once you reach Kars, you are on your own!

Georgian Railways do have a website, but it is completely useless, and as there is only one train you can take from Batumi to Tbilisi, which leaves daily, your chances of either missing it or of boarding the wrong one are slim.

My personal recommendations would be: Carry plenty of photocopies of your passport (to avoid having to trust the conductors with the original); take plenty of books with you; bring spare batteries for every electronic item you think you will need during the journey (the electricity supply in the compartments doesn't always work); buy picnics at every available opportunity; carry a not-too-thick-but-just-about-enough wad of cash with you (you will not always have the time to find ATMs along the way); bring a fresh duvet cover with you in case the bedding is unsatisfactory; and plan your ticket purchases carefully, for you will sometimes have to change trains in a hurry.


Sunday, 1 March 2009

Running routes

Let's not get technical, slowmoves can involve any mode of transport, it's the context and way we go about the journey that defines slowmoves. For example, running can be as much slowmoves as walking... Communting to work can be seen as a chore, or an opportunity (there's a blog to be written on that!). I enjoy running, it gives me great satisfaction to run just about anywhere (running machines not included for lots of reasons), but particularly from point a to point b (rather than point a to point a, you understand).

A great tool I was introduce to was Run Finder. And since this, I have also found Map Runner and Walk Jog Run and Run The Planet... There are loads! The sites offer everything from places you can log and share routes, to more technical aspects like stride lengths and calories burned. I have often asked myself, fow far did I run? Was it more up than down? Would it be quicker than the bus that stops everywhere?

If you like running or want a tool that might encourage you to start more than the idea of a stitch, check out some routes at my favourite: Good Run Guide.