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Ewan Kingston
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Copenhagen by camel

Ewan Kingston

19th June, 2008

What do you do if you're a homesick Kiwi stuck in Europe, who won't fly on ethical grounds? You take the long road...

'Once you take three long-distance coach trips, you should get a PhD'

There is a traditional Muslim saying that throws jet-lag into a new light: If you travel faster than a camel, you must wait for your soul to catch you up again.

I'm here in Europe, 1,800 [I think] km from my homeland, Aotearoa/New Zealand. I'm starting to feel the itch to return, and I know it'll take a long time at camel speed, but I'm keen to try it. The alternative just seems silly. Spending a small fortune to bypass some of the world's most evocative landscapes and fascinating cultures in the name of convenience? No thanks. Then of course, there's the massive carbon footprint.

Planes, as you know, burn a lot of fuel. What you may not know is that there is scientific consensus that the CO2 emissions of aircraft 'punch above their weight'. This is due to the multiplying effect that high altitude has on the cocktail of gases that is jet exhaust. Air travel might be 'only' around 6 percent of the UK's total emissions but it is growing at an alarming rate, just as we are aiming to slash our overall greenhouse gas emissions. Under a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 air travel would create more carbon emissions than the official target for all sectors of the economy combined.

In other words, the informed view is that today's air industry is one of the biggest threats to a stable climate. I believe this is bloody important, and I want to explore more soulful, less violent ways of travelling long distances. Hence the blog - charting the journey from UK to NZ, flying as little as possible on my miniscule budget.

My first leg, London to Copenhagen could have used up a sizeable chunk of that budget, had I chosen to travel by train. Luckily a great international service exists that co-ordinates highly  flexible and affordable coach travel around Europe: Eurolines. Operating out of sometimes forgotten coach stations all over the continent, Eurolines makes it pretty easy to obtain (and to afford) a ticket between hundreds of most of Europe's larger cities.

Long distance coach travel in Europe is generally both flexible and fascinating, but it's the camaraderie among the passengers that I really dig. Whenever I ride the coach I meet a handful of  interesting characters, and this trip is no exception. Natasha is travelling back to her home in the Loire, with her life packed up in the baggage compartment. She teases me for my accent while I bluster away in French. Jack from the Midlands tells me stories about Inner Mongolia, where he worked once. I take mental notes for my Trans-Manchurian adventure. Samantha, from Brussels, wants to emigrate to NZ.  'Tell me about a day in your life back home' she demands of me. 

By this time, we have already 'crossed' the channel, our bus nested inside a train carriage that rushes through the tunnel under that strip of water. After a quick change at Brussels, we glide along the autobahn, through Bremen and Hamburg, towards Puttgarden. We are moving much faster than camel speed, but when we stop for five minutes I love dipping my toes in the cultural pool of Northern Europe, grabbing a chocolate waffle in Brussels and practicing my German p's and q's in Hamburg. Among others who have boarded during the early morning stop in Hamburg is the loquacious Rashid. He's convincing his travel mate that slow really is the way to go. 'You learn about Europe like this, it's an education... once you take three long-distance coach trips, you should get a PhD!"

In late morning, we board a ferry to Denmark at Puttgarden. While others snack on Scandinavian shrimp and salmon, I wander out on deck, to watch the slate-coloured sea slip below us, and to catch my first sight of Denmark, its flat green peninsula studded with wind-turbines. Back on the road, it's just a couple of hours and sea-spanning bridges until we pull into Copenhagen. I leave the coach, for the last time -  slightly bleary eyed, but feeling a sense of wonder at the journey. To be honest, the scenery was rather bland, but to travel under, over and on the sea as well as through five countries in less than a day made the sore bum and fragmented sleep worth it all.

CO2 emissions for this leg:                                       45 Kg
CO2 equivalent warming effect if I had taken a plane   320 kg
(Best estimates)

 

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