Tuesday 6 August 2019

Traveling in the UK

My friends' homestead in the Welsh mountains. 

I traveled through the UK a few weeks ago visiting friends, all of whom were living remarkable lives and making the world better in their own way. One couple in rural Wales, for example, have a background in studying climate change, and wanted to live a more sustainable life; to do this, they turned a secluded hollow of the Welsh mountains into self-reliant homesteads.

They bought land with several friends of theirs, divided it among them, and each grow their own food, raise animals, keep bees, and created ties with the local Welsh community. They built homes out of timber frames and straw-bale walls. Straw sounds like a strange building material, but actually has tremendous potential for the future; when compressed into bales it is as strong as wood, and is no more or less flammable. It is also cheap, does not require cutting trees, and is an excellent insulator. My friends built a timber frame -- although similar structures could be made from other materials – and the straw bales formed the walls. Once a waterproof plaster coated the outside, no one could tell that the house was made of straw, and the bales were protected from moisture.

The very friendly pub in Pembroke, Wales
While in London I met with a group of people who met through John Michael Greer's blog, and who meet occasionally to share their experiences and ideas. They were all from the UK, mostly London -- I was the only one coming from Ireland -- and were working through different community groups and political parties to prepare their communities for the difficult times ahead. On this occasion we also listened to an interesting journalist, who had spent a great deal of time in the jungles of Guyana reporting on the tribal/gang warfare taking place there.

I was only able to visit them because I was taking a ferry and train to London, which pollutes a lot less than flying in a plane. Air travel has become so quick and convenient that many people treat it as driving a car, but all that flying is catching up with us, as it’s a major contributor to climate change. Taking a train uses a lot less fuel, even  if it takes longer, and it allows you to stop along the way, visit friends, and actually see the beaches and green cliffs of the country you’re visiting.

Many people go to other countries and stay at hotels, but I prefer hostels, which this weekend offered me a bunk and locker for only 12 pounds a night. Most hostels require visitors to sleep in rooms with several other people, but this is not as difficult as it might sound; most hostel guests respect the privacy and sleeping habits of others and, as they are spending the day working or having fun, use their rooms only for sleeping.

Hostels also offer the chance to mingle with other guests in a way that hotels do not. Since most people in hostels use their rooms only for sleeping, and spend their time at the hostel sitting in common rooms, hostel guests have the opportunity to chat with young or otherwise adventurous visitors from many countries, many of whom have great stories to tell.

You might think that seeing a foreign city would be expensive, and every city is different. In many cities, though, the most amazing sites are the statues, buildings, rivers, bridges and public parks, and those are almost always free. Touring them, also, does not have to be expensive; I rented a bicycle in London for two pounds a day, and got to see a lot of neighbourhoods with more ease than I would with a car, and with more freedom than I would with a bus tour.

On earlier trips I made a point of seeing Shakespeare at the Globe -- I got to see the infamous version of Titus Andronicus where audience members fainted and had to be carted away in ambulances. Another time I got very inexpensive tickets to Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, with Kiera Knightly and Elizabeth Moss. Still other times I toured the Natural History Museum, like a cathedral to the natural wonders of the world, or the many exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This time I wasn't seeking out tourist attractions, but looking to enjoy the varying neighbourhoods of London up close. 

The only tourist attraction I really saw -- almost by accident, stumbling across it -- was Abbey Road, the crossing of the famous Beatles album cover -- which is not much to see, honestly, and misguided visitors have defaced the surrounding area with graffiti. You wouldn't want to live anywhere near it. 
One of the plaques you see everywhere in London.
There's history on every corner. 

Eating out in London is quite an expensive proposition, so I bought nuts and fruit to tide me along through the day, and was able to keep myself full with healthy snacks for only a few pounds a day. We tend to pay more for food when we are hungry, intuitively enough, and take less time to enjoy the food. By doing that, I was able to savour the restaurants I did visit, and neither overeat there nor pay too much.  

Travel won't always be as convenient as it is now, so I’m enjoying it while I can, in the greenest way possible. Holidays abroad tend to be stressful times for many families, but life is too short not to take it easy and enjoy them.