For 7 days I tracked its every move vicariously through BBC TV, SKY News and CNN in hotel rooms in London and Paris, waiting for the go-ahead to get back on an aeroplane bound for Atlanta, secretly hoping that it wouldn’t come too soon. Though I knew had to get back.
Oh, to be stranded in Paris, in the springtime - or London, for that matter. I'd never seen such clear blue skies day after day in London,
Or in Paris,
The volcano erupted on the 14th of April, and the ash cloud drifting towards the United Kingdom and Europe caused almost a week of airspace closures, the cancellation of 100,000 flights, and the expected loss of over $2 billion by the airlines; with a ripple effect of financial fallout experienced by all those businesses and individuals dependent on air travel. It was the worst disruption of air traffic in Europe since World War II. Even today airlines are asking volunteers to give up their seats so that the thousands who are still stranded can get home. The uncoordinated response by the 27 national airspaces of the region exacerbated the problem, something that should be rectified by the proposed institution of a body that would regulate air traffic under "a single European sky."
My husband and I were among the hundreds of thousands of travellers around the world grounded by the crisis. Despite the frustrations and struggles involved in searching for a way out -with erratic internet access - we were not unhappy to be delayed in London. After all, some people are still stranded in Bangkok, close to the strife that is happening there now.
I love to visit London, and this time I discovered the charms of the area around Marylebone High Street. We walked into a lively sing-along with locals in the Golden Eagle pub on Marylebone Lane,
and in my wanderings I came across the totally unexpected treasure housed in Hertford House; the Wallace Collection - the worlds largest private art collection.
But my favorite find was Daunt Books – an original Edwardian bookstore, a place where I could happily have spent all week!
Eventually we were able to get tickets on the Eurostar train to Paris, in the belief that airspace would open on the continent sooner than in the UK.
The journey was 2 ¼ hours long – easy, comfortable and efficient. Why were we going to fly this, again? My husband got a ticket on a train to Stuttgart to pick up his business itinerary and I settled into the lovely Hotel du Bois ,off Avenue Victor Hugo, to wait it out.
For the next 3 days I walked the streets of Paris - stopping at sidewalk cafes,
Admiring window displays,
and I even climbed almost 500 stairs on a spiral staircase to the top of the tower of the Cathedral of Notre Dame to get a view across Paris, alongside the gargoyles.
Then one afternoon a strangely familiar sound made its way into my hotel room. I ran to the window and leaned out, craning my neck. Yes, an aeroplane. I hadn’t noticed the absence of that rumble, but now I remembered how loud planes are. So my flight was going to happen, after all. Sigh…
Bright and early the next day I dragged my luggage down the stairs – ready to fling it in the Seine, if that hadn’t required a longer walk - to the bus stop at the Arc de Triomphe and on to Charles de Gaulle. Home calling. Skies were already etched with contrails. By the time I got on the plane the air traffic haze was back.
Now that I’m home, nursing a case of jet lag, I’ve been reading a lot about the old Arabic belief that the soul travels at the pace of a camel. I imagine the ancients would say that speeding from one continent to the next in a matter of hours is not wise – how long would it take for our souls to catch up with our bodies?
Alice Waters, doyenne of “local” eating, believes that eating foods that are equally sped around the world is not good for the environment, or for us. She supports the Slow Food movement. With 100,000 members worldwide, the movement is the antithesis of fast food. The images of piles of rotting fruit and vegetables grounded by the volcano in warehouses in Kenya give weight to this school of thought.
The crisis brought on by Eyjafjallajokull (pronounced like this) could be the catalyst for some of us to re-examine our dependence on super fast travel by air, along with its negative effects. Perhaps the time has come for a Slow Travel movement, whereby we would use our feet, bicycles, cars, trains, and ships for non-essential travel – once we’ve identified what is actually essential, of course.
I’m dreaming of a slow boat to London.