the space between
On a train somewhere between Brussels and Paris, November 2011
My impending trip to Hanoi, Vietnam next week (we're getting away for the Lunar New Year this year) reminded me of the joys of travelling - something I need to badly remember, as my frenetic week drew to an end.
One of the things I love about travelling is the ample time for solitude. A good part of your trip is bound to be spend getting somewhere – train, plane, subways, boats, buses etc – and with a good hot drink, a fully-charged iPod, some reading material (optional), you have at least one good, stress-free hour ahead of you to simply let your mind rest and your thoughts flourish.
Commuting at home is different – there’s a task lying ahead of you (one you might not want to do) and there’s always an underlying source of stress waiting to be tackled. On a holiday, travelling is just that: you’re in between places and free to observe, no pressure. I hate flying, but I enjoy time spend on trains and buses, watching scenery fly (or sometimes, crawl) by, making up stories about fellow passengers, playing DJ with my iPod and conjuring the perfect playlist for the journey, reviewing photos on my camera.
One of my most beautiful journeys ever was on a bus (12 hours!) from Zagreb to Dubrovnik in Croatia – it was like travelling through postcards of Croatia’s stunning landscape. There were forests and streams straight from a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, wide scrubby plains and hillsides that brought to mind the Byzantines, and craggy coastlines falling away into sapphire waters. And one hell of a driver – he wound his way through winding mountain roads swiftly and smoothly, no jerky turns and brakes.
One of my most memorable was a four-hour bus ride in Vietnam where my friend and I chatted with three middle-aged Israelis who told us amusing stories about serving in the Israeli army, explained the Hebrew alphabet, and bought us ice-cream.
One of the most hellish was a 25-hour (yes you read right) train ride from Xi'an to Nanjing, when my father, my sister and I foolishly decided to travel across China during the biggest human migration of the year - the Lunar New Year. For 19 hours of the journey we stood in a packed carriage, taking turns to sit on our backpacks. The upside was the calm and dignity of our fellow travellers, which made the trip as painless as it could possibly be. And my iPod saved my life.
My style notes for such a trip: my most comfortable trousers – the only time I wear leggings – a big cozy sweater or cardigan over a soft t-shirt – shoes you can easily slip on or off, a scarf you can roll into a neck pillow when you decide to sleep, things that are dirt proof. Lose the sweater/cardi if it’s a hot weather trip.
What’s your favourite journey?