Who would spend 86 hours and about £300 travelling from Athens to the UK when a four hour flight costs a third of the price?
The answer is, of course, me – but I was rebuking myself with this question yesterday afternoon when I found out that my ferry crossing from Cherbourg to Poole had been summarily cancelled because of what can only be described as British weather.
As I scrabbled to find an alternative route that wasn’t disgustingly expensive (Eurostar topped £200, the train from Dover was nearly £90), unhappily time-tabled, or, indeed, already fully booked, I was annoyed at myself for choosing the slow road home, horrified at the mounting expense of two extra train fares, and disgraced by the choices we’ve made as a species that put such a high premium on terrestrial transport.
Then I remembered the people I left behind in Izmir, Samos and Athens: the Afghan students I’d taught the days of the week, the Syrian, Yemeni and Iraqi chefs who’d cooked for me, the friends of many nations with whom I’d hiked to the beach – the thousands of people who would give anything (their life savings, their youth, their life) for the chance to travel across the continent so charmlessly.
At the port, as police swept the underside of lorries for desperate stowaways, all I had to do was dangle my passport and cycle aboard. For me, there’s only the merest whiff of a border, and a delay of an hour or two is no delay at all.
As it happens, I feel very lucky to be on board – and not only because I’m winning the passport lottery.
Yesterday, after frantic re-routing analysis, I finally settled on the Caen to Portsmouth ferry as the least painful option. I booked the same, swiftly followed (naturally enough, I thought) by the booking of a train from Paris to Caen.
I agonised over the timings: should I book the languorous early train which would leave me a yawning two and a half hours of footling around in Caen, or should I book the dynamic later train, with time for a leisurely lunch in Paris and a snappy arrival 45 minutes before departure?
Eventually, my cautious nature won out and I booked the early train.
Good thing too – because the Caen and ‘Caen’ of my tickets are two completely different places. In fact, one of them isn’t called ‘Caen’ at all.
Caen, the actual Caen where my train arrived, is a landlocked town some 16 kilometres from the English Channel.
The spurious ‘Caen’ of my ferry booking is actually a place called Ouistrehem, which might look less catchy on the brochure, but has the singular advantage of being geographically accurate.
Good thing I had that spare hour for a rapid bike ride through the misting Calvados rain.
I have joined thousands of others in pledging to go Flight Free in 2020. You can help focus politicians’ minds on sustainable alternatives to air travel by joining the movement here.
UPDATE: I have just done the accounts on all my travels this summer.
I was particularly shocked by how expensive all the overland travel was – especially after my ferry on Friday was cancelled and I had to rebook a couple of trains as well.
So I looked up the cost of my 5 trips this summer if I’d used air travel.
Total plane cost
5 days, includes airport transfers and bike carriage
£198.40 per trip
Total cost of travelling overland
11 nights, includes hostels (and ferry and train cancellation costs)
£242.97 per trip
It still feels a bit wrong that flying through the air is cheaper than taking a train or bus, but it’s nowhere near as cheap as I’d thought it’d be.
Remember, too, that included in my £44/trip overland travel premium were three beautiful evenings in Paris, two with friends in Milan and a whole day to explore Brindisi.
Cheap at the price!