What is Slow Travel? For me, it is staying in one place for weeks at a time, getting to know the area, be acknowledged by your neighbours, essentially living like a local. It might also include improving your language skills. You become less a tourist, more a resident.
If you move permanently to a new area, you spend your first few weeks getting to know your immediate environment. Where are the local shops, what is the easiest way to the station, where are the schools, what good places are they to eat? After a few weeks, you refine your choices, you find new restaurants, new favourite places etc. For me, Slow Travel is a bit like that, you go further than the tourist areas, you find things that only the locals know about.
When we went to Nice, it was very much a toe in the water of being away from home for weeks at a time. We are fortunate that we have few fixed demands on our time. While my husband works part-time, it is on his own terms, and as long as he has a laptop and an internet connection, it doesn’t matter where he is. Would we want to go home after a couple of weeks? Answer – No! Would we feel cut off? – No! Given we are retired, we already wake up each morning with a smile on our faces. Our smile is even bigger when we are away, because each day brings something new.
Why Slow Travel?
Slow travel gives us time to spend some time getting to know a place.
In 2014, I was asked what would I do if I won the lottery. My answer was that I already felt I had won the lottery, We were not accountable to anyone or anything, we had enough money to do what we wanted, when we wanted and we had the health to do so. However, a little acorn had been sown, so when 2015 came around, and we didn’t have the same home ties, we decided we would give it a shot.
2015 – Nice, France. This was great. We had never been away for 4 weeks before. We took an apartment, brushed up on our French and set off. Various friends and family came to visit us. Everything worked amazingly well, and as soon as we got home we started discussing where to go next.
As soon as we arrived, we got ourselves bus passes and over the next few weeks used them to travel all around the area from Monaco to Cannes by public transport. (Our French was challenged on day 1, trying to buy the bus passes, but that was part of our journey!)
While we were there we also fitted in a weekend trip to Genoa, Italy. Another lovely city.
In 2016, It was Barcelona, Spain. This time for 6 weeks. Again this was an amazing trip. There was so much to see. We used the same formulae. Friends and family stopped over for a few days at a time. We enjoyed seeing them, but also enjoyed the time on our own. We used public transport, but also walked loads. Our daily goal of 10,000 steps was easy to achieve…. We also had a lovely trip to Montserrat Abbey.
As for 2017 – Madrid, Spain. 5 weeks this time. We have been back. about 8 weeks now. It still seems very fresh in our minds. Not least because when we left it was 26c, in Edinburgh as I write this it due to be -10c tonight!. Yet another great trip. As I am now blogging, there are about 4 entries, documenting our trip. The winning formulae worked again. This was our first non-seaside trip, so it felt different. Less of a holiday, more like a lifestyle change. Our best trip so far.
2018 – who knows? Watch this space… We will meet up with our younger son and his wife in Amsterdam in August 2018, but we also hope to fit in one or two trips.
What Have We Learned?
- To take our time. When you have just a few days in a place, you need to get round the key sights, so you can ‘notch’ them up on the ‘Been there, seen it’ list. When you have 5 or 6 weeks, or even several months in one city, you can really relax and take your time. you have to go at a different pace.For instance we were 5 weeks in Madrid, but we only went round the Palace in our last week.
- You can match where you go, with the weather. You don’t want to spend a really hot day, climbing a hillside, you want to wait for an overcast day. Do you want to go to the best beach when it is cool, maybe not?
- Locals are really friendly, if you make them aware you are in the place for weeks, not days. We got friendly with the bakers wife in the wee bakery we went to in Barcelona. She encouraged us to use Catalan / Spanish, and offered us different things to try. They make you feel welcome.
- Tourist buses are great if you are only there for a couple of days, but local buses go to places you would never find through a tourist guide. We have developed a habit of going to the ‘end of the route’ and seeing what it is like. Often it is a bit of an industrial estate, but en the way you notice a couple of different places you want to stop in on the way back. Sometimes it works, others not. You get some interesting looks! One of our best trips was in a ‘locals’ 12 seat bus up a hillside outside Nice. We got into a conversation with one person, and between her broken english, and my school french, we explained what we were doing. She then told us some things we should do while we were there.
- It doesn’t really cost too much. There is a cost for renting the apartment and the flights, but once you are there, you living costs are pretty much the same. We do eat out a bit more, but we also cook very simply on many days. We have so much fun doing the food shopping. What can be a chore at home becomes an experience when you are abroad.
- Our family and friends also share our enjoyment of a different place. We do different things together. In a way it is easier playing host, because no-one expects the same level of hospitality as they would if they were in our home. It is very relaxed
- As we get more experienced in selecting apartments, our ‘base’ level changes. This year the sunny terrace was a big bonus. This may become our new ‘base’ level….
What different places did we find?
In Nice, we probably followed a well worn tourist track. When some friends came to see us, they hired a car and we went to Grasse. Generally we toured along the coast from Cannes in the west to Monaco in the east. Our highlights were taking buses high into the hills above the city.
In Barcelona, we took in some of the amazing sights in the vicinity. Masses of Gaudi architecture, and a stunning trip to Montserrat Abbey, about 40 miles outside Barcelona. However, there were two places that were not mentioned much in the Tourist guides that we really loved
- Hopital de Santa Creu i Sant Pau. We had passed by these large brick walls many times on the bus and wondered what was behind it. It was on our last full day that we decided to go and see it. Designed and built between 1901 and 1912, it is made up of several buildings all linked by underground corridors. The architecture is beautiful, the decoration stunning. We were only there for a couple of hours, but could easily have spent longer.
- Colonia Guell, just outside Barcelona. This is a partially finished church built Gaudi, which was effectively the prototype for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It is part of a ‘workers village’ envisaged by Guell. It is very quiet, with virtually no tourists. A lovely space in the countryside to wander around for an hour or two.
In Madrid, the places that we loved were parks on the outskirts. Some of them were not well signposted, even for locals. (I was very proud of being able to give a young couple directions in Spanish!) Essentially my husband sat down with a map of Madrid and looked for the ‘green spaces’… Then worked out what bus or metro took us there.
- Parque El Capricho. This is a lovely park on the outskirts of Madrid. Definitely off the beaten track, and very few (if any) tourists. It has everything from a folly in the garden, to a summerhouse with the most beautiful marble statue, acres of land to walk around, and a lake with the most beautiful 2 black swans.
- Campo del Moro This is absolutely in the centre of the city with a lovely view of the Royal Palace, but the entrance is a bit more difficult to reach, so very few tourists. Lovely formal gardens with plenty of seats and many things to look at.
Campo Del Moro
How do we decide where to go?
To date we have used very simple criteria
- Is it on a direct flight route from Edinburgh? (and preferably London, Cardiff / Bristol & Belfast so our family and friends can come and see us easily too)
- Will the weather be pleasant at the time of year we are intending to go? It doesn’t always work…
- Is there plenty to do and see in the area?
- Is there a good public transport system?
- Can we get reasonably priced accommodation?
- How much is it likely to cost?
- Can we speak the language? (This influenced Nice – I have basic French, and Madrid – I have started learning Spanish)
Each city is very different
Each city, and to some extent the weather, has influenced what we have done.
Nice had mainly stony beaches, but the weather was glorious, so my sun worshiper husband, liked to find a nice spot in the sun and stretch out. Hence on sunny days we took ourselves either off along the coast, or to a little area near our flat where we would join the locals in some sunbathing (A lot of locals were perma-tanned…)
Barcelona had some amazing architecture, and great beaches. However most days the weather was ‘just ok’, so we concentrated on the architecture rather than the beaches, and making the most of our travel pass going as far as our ticket would take us.
In Madrid, the weather was glorious. There were a fair amount of things to see, but not as much as Barcelona, so we balanced that, with finding lovely parks where we could have a wander in the sun. Madrid was the city we felt most at home in. It seemed to have fewer tourists, which seems a strange thing for a tourist to say. In Barcelona and Nice, everything was set up to cater for tourists, whereas in Madrid while there is a busy tourist area (Many are Spanish tourists), there is also a thriving local population with their own neighbourhoods and local life.
This is still a very big question.
Initially we thought we would be having some time in Berlin in August, but plans have moved on. So we are now trying to decide between April / May and September / October (maybe even both!).
We would like warm, but not too hot. Many European cities are just too hot for us from June to August.
At the minute, we are considering Rome, Athens, a Spanish city – maybe Valencia. Our original plan said Europe, but we don’t have to stay within those boundaries. So watch this space.
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