Regular readers of our blog will remember that back in the summer of 2015, RSGS CEO, Mike Robinson and his family travelled from Perth to the South of France by train for their summer holiday in order to fully immerse themselves in the slow travel experience. Today we are bringing you another family’s slow travel adventure, the Young family travelled from Edinburgh to Zagreb by train and loved the adventure.
By train to Zagreb – a low carbon ‘Slow Travel’ journey to the sun with the Young family.
So you work in Climate Change and want to take a holiday? Don’t you listen to all the messages about flying less?
This blog gives you an insight into how one family tackled this challenge this summer, whilst having a fantastic adventure along the way.
So what did we want from our family holiday in 2015? Well, as every year, the main thing was to be doing something different – we’re just not two weeks on a sun lounger kind of people. It had to give us the chance to experience some new places and cultures; to allow us to spend some fun time together whilst not costing an arm and a leg; and had to fit inside a roughly two week envelope. So what was it to be?
As a family we’ve always enjoyed canoeing, so when friends suggested a sea kayaking trip in Croatia we jumped at the chance. But how to get there? Well the obvious thing was simply to book an Easyjet flight from Edinburgh to Split, and take it from there, but as SG policy lead for the Climate Challenge Fund (CCF), which supports communities across Scotland to take practical action to tackle climate change, and reduce carbon emissions, is that okay? During the time I’ve been looking after the CCF I’ve meet all sorts of interesting and inspiring people, as well as some quite ordinary people (like me!) doing things differently to do their bit to reduce carbon emissions. For some that is travelling differently, for others changing their diet, eating locally sourced, perhaps home-grown food, and less meat. Others are tackling waste, by recycling, reducing and reusing, and many are saving money, and carbon, by improving the energy efficiency of their homes and workplaces by switching things off or managing their heating system better.
But what has that actually got to do with a holiday? Well quite simply, whilst as a family we are ‘reasonably green’, I thought it was time we tried our hand at doing a bit more, following some of the examples I’d seen and heard about, and reducing our air footprint seemed a good place to start.
But how did I sell this to the rest of the family? Well I can’t deny that I can be a bit of a CCF communities bore, pointing out interesting (to me) projects on many a trip around the country, so much so that in fact the family now tend to get in first, and if they see anything vaguely green/sustainable they remark on it with glee. But the answer this time was actually not to mention climate change. But simply to sell the idea of a rail trip to the Mediterranean as the best possible way to travel. And it was!
It all started on a Friday night on the 10.30pm 41 bus , which took us from the end of our street to Waverley Station, to board the Caledonian Sleeper, and then on through the night from Edinburgh to London. Although we’d been on a sleeper once before, we did not know quite what to expect. Carriages were clean and comfortable, two twin bunk bedded compartments with an interconnecting door, and we were impressed by the welcome and hospitality from the friendly, and rather incongruously, very Welsh train stewardess, who brought us tea and coffee in the morning, and announced cheerfully that we were at Euston, but there was no rush to disembark. There was something quite nice about having the first drink of the holiday just before midnight in the restaurant carriage, as the train thundered through the darkness of the East Lothian countryside. It felt very old fashioned and romantic. Hard to sleep though, with the rattling noise of the train, combined with excitement, and some trepidation, at the start of the trip.
Arriving in London on Saturday morning was a shock – it was hot! Very hot! Despite not yet being 8 in the morning we were scrambling for shade as we walked along to St Pancras with our backpacks We had a bit of a wait through (airport style) security for the Eurostar, and a mild panic when ‘all those with tickets in Carriage L’ were summoned to the Information Desk instead of on to the train, to be told that the (high carbon – but essential) air con (oh the irony) had failed in our carriage, but we were quickly and efficiently reallocated new seats on the same departure, still seated together as a family, and handed bottled water (more irony) for the journey. And by lunch time we were in Paris! Even hotter!!
One of the big attractions of travelling this way, as far as the rest of the family was concerned was the prospect of a ‘bonus’ 24 hours in Paris, followed quickly by a second ‘extra’, 24 hours in Munich, so the chance to have two city mini breaks ,before we even arrived on our holiday ‘proper’.
After depositing our bags at a Travelodge we set off to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of the French capital, mainly on foot, but also by metro. We admired the view from the Arc de Triomphe, walked along the Seine, enjoyed the modern art (and the ‘essentially in 35 degree heat’ air con) at the George Pompidou Centre. Twenty four hours was enough for a cultural taster and more importantly, a good night’s sleep!
Three pm on the Sunday saw us back at the station – Gare De l’Est this time, for our next overland adventure. We were taking the TGV from Paris to Munich, arriving in Munich at 10pm. The seven hours passed quickly, reading, playing cards, and for some amongst us, on our phones, watching Europe go by, snoozing and eating. We messed up a little by planning to buy food for the journey close to the train station, only to be caught out by the fact that the mini supermarket we’d carefully scouted in advance was closed on Sundays (how old fashioned) but were pleasantly surprised by the quality and value of the food from the on board café. The train was full – very full, with what seemed like every student in that part of Europe going somewhere, and sitting in the bar and foyer/luggage areas, but we had reserved seats around a table on the upper deck (how exciting – a double decker train) and despite the overcrowding the atmosphere was friendly, and everyone was courteous, as we climbed over them carrying our Croque Monsieur and cups of coffee!
Ten pm that night and we were safely and on time in Munich, another hot and sticky city. We had booked a hotel handy for the station, and crashed pretty much straight away, leaving the sights for the morning.
The next leg of our journey was to be another sleeper, this time leaving at 11.30 pm Monday night and bound for Zagreb, so we had all of Monday to switch our brains from French to German and our stomachs from croissants to pretzels. Having walked our socks off in Paris we decided we needed another form of transport for the day, so after a hearty German breakfast we considered a bus tour, but opted to hire bikes (lower carbon and more enjoyable) to see the city. We did a fabulous self-guided tour taking in the parks and gardens, including Olympic Park, and ended our day with a refreshing early evening dip in the (freezing cold) River Isar, which runs through the centre of the city and was clearly the destination of choice for all the hip city dwellers (and us!). Bike hire was cheap, ubiquitous, and the laid back ‘cruiser’ bikes we rented were super cool! And of course there were plenty of safe, dedicated, bike lanes to use.
After a great urban adventure we were back to Munich Bahnhof and to our preferred mode of transport, the train. A bit in trepidation about this one, as it was a Croatian train, rather than a German or French/British one, and given it split in the middle of the night, with the other half bound for Venice, we were keen get in the correct carriage. But we need not have doubted, and whilst the rolling stock was a little slower, and older, everything was clean and functional, and again the train host made us very welcome, serving super strong Croatian coffee you could stand a spoon in this time!
Coming to, with a view from your bed of the sun coming up over the stunningly green and lush Slovenian countryside passing the window was fabulous; well worth a slightly compromised night of sleep.
And so to Zagreb. After three and a half days we were now finally in the right country, and had only a further two hour coach ride, and another 2 hours on a superfast catamaran, before we found ourselves at our final destination on the Isle of Rab, in central Croatia, where we would commence of sea kayaking tour the following day. Beautiful. Amazingly we arrived within 20 mins of our pals from Edinburgh, who had taken the Easyjet/airport transfer option. Albeit our journey had taken 4 days longer than theirs – but what a journey, and a fantastic experience it had been!
Taking the slow route to the sun added such a lot to our holiday , and not all of that was expense! Yes the train travel part did cost about a third more than flying would have, and was complicated to book. Getting all the bits to join up required a bit of thinking and persistence on my husband’s part, but he likes a challenge, and the requirement for a planning spreadsheet! And remember included in that extra cost were two nights’ accommodation on the sleepers. We probably also spent more, as we rolled the city breaks in to the trip, but it was well worth it, the two mini breaks were a great compliment to our subsequent holiday in the sun. We saw such a lot, and met some interesting folk along the way, as we continuing to use public transport, with the odd local taxi, throughout the rest of the holiday.
But what about getting home? Well in terms of time and practicalities, including the constraints of limited time off work, we could only take the ‘Slow Travel’ concept so far, and so we flew back – on Easyjet. Nothing wrong with it, though it felt quite boring, and the airport departure lounge rather clinical and unfriendly, compared to the hustle and bustle of the train stations we’d passed through. And there was only one poor harassed barista, at only one tiny kiosk, serving coffees for the entire airport, making that coffee queue the longest ‘delay’ of the holiday.
Would I recommend it? Well of course I would. But what about the rest of the family? …
• Going to Croatia by train was a really exciting experience. It made the holiday into more than just an out and back trip and feel much longer. It made the holiday feel like a real adventure. It might sound like the holiday could have gone badly wrong and been boring with long journeys and sleepless nights, but it wasn’t partly because of taking the sleeper trains – they are fun and the cool thing is you go to bed in one country and way up in another ready to explore it. The journey was also better because of our 24 hours in Paris and 24 hours in Munich. I felt like we saw a lot of the cities and it didn’t feel rushed. It felt like an exciting journey across Europe. – Anna, 13 🙂
• Our journey was a lot of fun, and I would jump at the chance to do it all again, but do bear in mind there as one catch – I had to spend 4 whole days solely in the company of my parents and sister, and more importantly, 2 nights in a room the size of shoebox. But, if you think you can stand that, not only do you have my utmost respect, the world (that you can reach by train at least) really is your oyster! – Ellie, 17
But what about our carbon credentials overall? Well of course we flew home, and for that we are therefore not ‘ultra-green’. But that was not the aim, we wanted to have an interesting trip, with the bonus of the outward journey being considerably lower carbon than it might have been, so showing what can be done through incremental changes to behaviour, and making modest changes.
And just in case you want to know the statistics, www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx tells me that traveling out by rail rather than flying resulted in a massive 85% less carbon emissions (0.05 tonnes per person, rather than 0.33 tonnes). Even I was surprised by those numbers!
Looking forward to the next trip!
– Judith Young