Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Should we not all sit down and review the cumulative depth of our own carbon footprint? And should travel writers perhaps be taking the lead by showing that most of the leisure flights we all take are simply unnecessary?

article summary —

Changing trains in Freiburg, a town in south-west Germany, while en route from Burgundy back to Berlin late last year, I enjoyed a chance encounter with a Fridays for Future demonstration. Several hundred school children marched with chants and songs along the main road outside the railway station, many of them bearing banners with the words “Schulstreik für das Klima” (School Strike for Climate) and “Our Home is Burning.”

As social protests go, it was good-humoured, tuneful and immensely thought-provoking. Seeing the city police using Segways to keep a watchful eye on the demo’s progress added to the atmosphere. Bright-eyed demonstrators split off from the main demonstration to interrogate passers-by who looked as though they might be tourists. Two approached me.

“You’re a visitor, yes?” asked a young woman.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Did you fly to Germany?” she queried.

I assured her that I’d travelled from Beaune by train, and was merely enjoying an hour or two in Freiburg before continuing by train to Berlin. The entire encounter was done and dusted in seconds. But it left a deep impression. What if I had flown, and admitted to it? And it made me reflect on the ethics of flying, given that it is now unequivocally clear that jet aircraft flying at altitude are a major contributor to global warming.

The legitimacy of flying as a growing social norm was hardly questioned in the last century. Air travel has generally been conceived as an opportunity; it is intimately associated with adventure. Frequent- flyer programmes are tiered to reward those who fly more, and there are media reports of flyers who make ‘mileage runs’ merely to preserve their gold-tier status in their favourite frequent-flyer plan.

But in the new piety, the flyer’s dilemma is painfully acute. How can I justify stepping onto a plane? And does the motivation for a journey in any way mediate the fly/no fly decision? The conundrum is a particularly acute one for those of us who make our living as travel writers.

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Nicky Gardner is editor of hidden europe and also the principal author of the magazine. Where a text is not specifically attributed to an author, it is the work of Nicky. Below, you’ll find a small selection of her articles in hidden europe magazine. Nicky also writes regularly for other media. She is co-author (with Susanne Kries) of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide, the 17th edition of which was published 2022.

Nicky Gardner was liberated from a life enslaved to performance indicators and business plans to become a travel writer. She gives thanks for that daily. Nicky writes about culture and communities, about memorable landscapes and also about journeys. Over the years she's picked up a thing or two about product life cycles, the book trade and publishing, ticketing APIs, how libraries work and the high theology of grant giving.

Nicky reads geography books, railway timetables and maps entirely for pleasure - and lots of real books too! She loves nothing more than a slow meander by public transport around some unsung part of Europe. Nicky is particularly interested in issues of identity and culture in eastern Europe and the Balkans, in linguistic minorities and in island communities. Her pet loves are public libraries, Armenian food and anything coloured purple. Nicky cannot abide suburban sprawl, supermarkets and fast trains. Nicky has since 2007 been a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. Nicky is especially keen on historical travel writing: Edith Durham, Gertrude Bell and Isabelle Eberhardt are among her favourites. Nicky can be contacted at editors [at] hiddeneurope.eu.

This article was published in hidden europe 60.