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The Art of Slowing Down

Towards the end of 2018 I decided that 2019 was going to be my year of no flying.

A pledge that I've sadly most definitely not kept.

2019 also happened to be the year my boyfriend moved to the island of Mallorca, and I suddenly found myself in a long distance relationship. Traveling between Berlin and Mallorca without flying takes time and sadly costs and arm and a leg, while flights are plentiful and often dirt cheap.

I did the journey once, via ferry, bus (the train tracks in southern France were badly damaged by a storm, the storm surely being a direct consequence of climate change) and a total of three trains. I really enjoyed those stretches of time to myself. Time for reading, sleeping, looking out over the changing landscape rolling by. Quite often those stretches of times also become a forced digital detox, as we must pass through 'holes' in the so called the 3G net.

In 2019 I did opt for buses and trains for nearly all trips I took, except for those to Mallorca. I traveled to Sweden on a Flixbus a couple of times. I simply couldn't afford the train.

I took the slow journey to Sicily by train. I enjoyed that a lot. And now I've seen Calabria too, at least the glimpses of melancholy beauty I caught through the train window.

I also took the train Berlin-Brussels, and then the Eurostar to London. Pricey but smooth like cashew butter.

I know many of you are way better than I am at this no-flying-thing. If we really want to save ourselves from extinction, we have to give up something that hurts. Not eating meat is easy for me; I pretty much gave that up at the age of fifteen (falling off the wagon a few times long ago now). And buying second hand instead of new is also a habit I formed as a teenager, without wanting to save the world even, just because I thought it was cool and punk rock!

But trying not to fly hurts. I've always loved traveling. And I would love to go to visit my former homeland, the United States. The thought of not seeing Asia again is painful. According to the UN's climate panel, Europeans have to cut down our Co2 emissions ninety percent. I've read many places that a sustainable way of flying would be one roundtrip within Europe per year. Or one trip to Asia/The Americas every ten years ... So I guess I could see Asia again. Or go there by Vespa as a friend of my boyfriend did ...

As I'm preparing to travel to Italy on train for Christmas, I'd like to introduce you to Birte, a regular yogi, and one impressive woman. She's the one I credit both for inspiring me to attempt a year without flying, and also for the discounts I've decided to give to people who travel to faraway retreats without flying.

She took the slow journey Berlin- Mallorca to join my October retreat there. We had a little chat about her experiences while looking out at the peaceful and aloof Tramuntana Mountains.

ME: Did you make a conscious decision not to fly?

BIRTE: Yes. One and a half years ago I decided to try to not fly anymore. So when you announced you were doing a retreat on Mallorca, I was a bit sad at first, because I didn't think there was a way to go there with the train. I'm quite used to traveling to Italy by train, but I'd never thought about going to Mallorca that way. It seemed like a big challenge, so I was considering whether to go or not, and when I saw that there was only one spot left, I decided to try. And then after I signed up, I started looking into how to do it.

ME: How did you come to the decision not to fly?

BIRTE: I feel that every change starts with me, with my behaviour and how I handle situations. And I never really liked I flying, I never liked the way my body feels afterwards. It feels to fast. That said I've flown a lot.

But we have to change something in how we behave in this world and how we treat nature, that's clear to me.

ME: What was the first longer trip you took after you decided not to fly?

BIRTE: Funnily enough that was the retreat I did with you last year in August in Stockholm, Sweden. I even convinced my friend to do the trip there with me by train. And it was really nice. I also like going by train, and I like exploring Europe on train, I also did this before, but it's different when you give yourself this challenge of not flying.

ME: How do other people respond to you not flying?

BIRTE: I hardly ever say straight out that I don't fly, partially because then people try to find other things that you do (that might not be environmentally sound, my comment), and I don't want to be so strict as to say I will never fly, because there may come a time when I simply have to, because it would be too hard to travel in another way. But every time I say that I'm traveling to Mallorca without flying, people are always interested, asking lots of questions, how long does it take, what does it cost and so on. Often people say, oh but that's such a long journey. Yes, it is, but it's also far away. We've gotten so used to getting faraway places really fast.

ME: Is there anything new you've discovered through taking these longer trips without flying? Any side effects?

BIRTE: There are positive side effects. I think the loveliest trip I took was from Berlin to Italy, and it wasn't just the landscape that changed, but also the people. In Germany I sat next to an art historian. She was writing something about the Weimar Bauhaus, and we got into a little chat which was really interesting and then I changed to another train in Austria and someone with leather trousers and a dog sat next to me. He seemed like he was coming directly from the mountains. And then I changed again in Italy and I was sitting next to a monk in his brown robes, he was reading the bible. And I was like, oh wow, I could never have sat next to a monk on the train in Germany, or on a flight. And another thing that really amazed me is how ancient the booking system is when you want to go beyond borders, and it's so hard to buy tickets for these border-crossing trips, which is really annoying. This makes it so much harder, it's not convenient at all, and this has to change, in order for people to change.

ME: I think this is changing, I see a few positive signs. Finally though, how was your trip here, going from Berlin to Mallorca without flying?

BIRTE: My trip was a bit different than I thought, because of the big rain storm that took away the train tracks in southern France, and I wasn't aware of that. This was also because I booked the tickets in the office, and not online, so nobody had my contact details. In Paris I was looking for my train to Barcelona, but it was nowhere to be found, because all the trains had to end in Montpellier, but I didn't know that. So I ended up taking a bus to Montpellier, and had another night in Perpignan. Everything was a bit delayed, but in the end it was all fine, because I caught the ferry on time and I met some really interesting people on the trip. Also the french train company took good care of us, and they didn't leave us stranded but they put us on a bus and organised us a hotel. It felt a little bit like we were on a field trip together. I thought it would be exhausting to spend a whole day on the train from Berlin to Barcelona, but it felt nice. I love to look out the window, to sleep in between, to read books. I can do so much with that time. It was the first step into my vacation.

And the boat was a bit strange, because there were so few people on it. But there was a swimming pool on the deck, which was nice, so I sat in the sun, with my feet in the water, and could look at the sea and the sky, for seven hours. It was nice, but I wouldn't have thought that the boat would take that long.

* All photos except the top one, by Birte Bösehans

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