By SETH STEVENSON
Published: April 19, 2010
AFTER waiting nearly a week as an Icelandic volcano spewed turbine-mangling ash into the atmosphere — thwarting flights into, out of or through Europe — the airlines are supposed to begin flying passengers again on Tuesday.
Governments, businesses and most travelers, irritated by disrupted itineraries and worried about lost productivity, are delighted to see planes back in the sky. But I, for one, wish this blessedly jet-free interlude could have continued a little longer. In the eccentric, ground-level adventures of some stranded passengers — 700-mile taxi rides through Scandinavia, for instance, perhaps a horse-drawn stagecoach over the Alps if things got really desperate — I’m reminded of the romance we trade away each time we shuffle aboard an airplane.
In the five decades or so since jets became the dominant means of long-haul travel, the world has benefited immeasurably from the speed and convenience of air travel. But as Orson Welles intoned in “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The faster we’re carried, the less time we have to spare.” Indeed, airplanes’ accelerated pace has infected nearly every corner of our lives. Our truncated vacation days and our crammed work schedules are predicated on the assumption that everyone will fly wherever they’re going, that anyone can go great distances and back in a very short period of time.
So we are condemned to keep riding on airplanes. Which is not really traveling. Airplanes are a means of ignoring the spaces in between your point of origin and your destination. By contrast, a surface journey allows you to look out on those spaces — at eye level and on a human scale, not peering down through breaks in the clouds from 35,000 feet above — from the observation car of a rolling train or the deck of a gently bobbing ship. Surface transport can be contemplative, picturesque and even enchanting in a way that air travel never will be.
My girlfriend and I recently set out to circumnavigate the globe without the aid of any aircraft. Along the way, we took the Trans-Siberian Railway across the wilds of Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok, and drove a car through the empty doomlands of the Australian outback. These journeys take less than half a day if you go by plane. Each lasts nearly a week when you stick to the ground. But taking to the air means simply boarding, enduring the flight and getting off at another airport. Going our way meant sharing bread and cheese with kindly Russians in a shared train cabin, and drinking beers with Australian jackaroos (we’d call them cowboys) at a lonely desert roadhouse. These are warm, vivid memories that will stay with us forever. Think of the trans-Atlantic flights you may have taken. Do you remember anything about them? (Turbulence, bad in-flight movies and screaming children don’t count.) Because flying is an empty, soulless way to traverse the planet, the best flights are in fact the ones you forget immediately after hitting the tarmac.
Now, imagine floating across the Atlantic on a ship. Do you think you might enjoy those days of transit — the joys of a starry night in the middle of the ocean, or a round of drinks with new friends as you look out across the stern railing at the glimmering water — and hold them in your memories well after your vessel made landfall?
My hope is that some travelers stranded by the volcanic eruption have been able to discover the joys of slow travel for themselves. With airplanes out of the picture over the past few days, pretty much the only form of public transport between the United States and Europe has been aboard the Queen Mary II, making one of her weeklong treks between New York and Southampton, England, or on one of the select few container ships that will rent spare cabins to civilian passengers.
I can vouch for the container ship option, having taken a nine-day-long freighter passage from Philadelphia to Antwerp as part of my globe-circling trip. You can hang out on the navigational bridge with the officers, who will teach you to chart a course. You eat your meals with the crew in the mess room. You spot broad-winged seabirds and enormous whales and pods of dolphins.
Were you to see a plane flying overhead, you’d look up at its contrail and pity those poor people shrieking through the sky in a cramped aluminum tube. They will arrive days before you, sure. But they will have missed out on the wonders of a journey where there is no choice but to sit back, relax and pleasantly ruminate, as the ship chugs steadily through the waves. Seth Stevenson is the author of “Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.”
Bi: I has been talking with Calvin for few hours long about our trip we did in Taiwan last year. We took the 17 hours train from Shenzhen to Fuchou, then take an hour boat to get aboard into Taiwan Territory – Matsu. We stay for a night and grab a scooter drove all over the “military” island. And here is the main course, taking a 10 hrs boat trip to KaohsiungWith the moments in Taiwan, we rented a car to drive all over from Taipei to Taitung while we didn’t even know where to go in those 5days, and indeed, we took another 5 days for transportation.
“Why dun take a flight with merely an hour trip to Taiwan” (with a seemly down-looking face about my foolish).. And finally, I think SETH STEVENSON helped me to take the response. Maybe this is abit surreal in our Kongee working life to grab a 10days of holiday for a trip to just Taiwan with much of money in pocket. While my last two trip involved with boat transporting were both during my unemployed period.
Aeroplane for me is like as a space-time transfer machine, somehow as like as the tunnel. It took you from one place to the other, but it still need some moments, say an hour to Taiwan, 10 hours to Aussie. But, there would-be nothingness/hallow during those moments, and hail to the author “Airplanes are a means of ignoring the spaces in between your point of origin and your destination.”
I think here is the place for you to rethink about what travelling is. Is it just point and go on a map, then select and follow where to visit with the guild book on hand. Taking funny picture as a memory with skinny layer of experiences and background. I’m taking about the background of why and how to do that trip.. For me, a trip should be a reflecting and meditating journey by crashing with new place and new people, which is new experiences. Therefore I think a heart of expecting unexpected in every trip is required.