Eija Vinnari & Niina Kuokkanen, Tampere University, Finland
Have you considered taking the land route to a conference abroad but never gotten round to it? Have you worried about all the hassle related to planning the journey and getting the tickets, and, perhaps most of all, losing precious working hours? We had similar concerns, yet we decided to take the ‘sea and land’ route from our homes in southern Finland to St. Andrews, Scotland, to attend the annual conference organized by the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research (CSEAR).
The prospect of taking the less carbon intensive route seemed somewhat daunting to us because, as anyone with a map can see, Finland is for all practical purposes an island. To get to the European rail network first requires crossing the sea to Sweden with a stable yet slow ferry, so even if one travels without pauses from Finland to Scotland, the journey takes at least 48 hours. We opted for a slower but healthier option whereby we spent a day in Stockholm and a night in London, arriving in St. Andrews 72 hours after leaving Tampere. Planning the route took some time, but luckily we were able to buy almost all tickets from the German railway company Deutsche Bahn’s website (our university’s travel agent does not offer train tickets abroad).
We first took the overnight ferry from Turku, arriving in Stockholm at 6:30 in the morning. We had decided to stay the day in the city, waiting for the EuroNight train that would take us directly to Hamburg. As Stockholmers were only waking up, we were already discussing Niina´s research plan and thesis structure over breakfast in a local café. We then proceeded to a nearby hotel, where we had managed to get a reasonably priced small day room (paid out of our own pockets, not by our university), and started working. A nice break was provided by our Swedish colleague Emilia Cederberg, who took us to lunch at a great vegan restaurant. Before leaving the hotel, we did some clothes management and showered in order to be fresh for the night and the following day of intense travel.
The EuroNight train from Stockholm to Hamburg was somewhat old but clean. Due to a change in carriages, we got a six-person cabin just to ourselves and slept better than on any flight, despite the stops on the way.
The next day, Saturday, was dedicated to the longest stretch, from Hamburg via Cologne (Köln) and Brussels to London. Our first train did not have any electrical sockets, but luckily we had freshly charged batteries on all our appliances. They proved especially useful after a prankster pulled the emergency brake and the train had to stop for investigation. We spent the last hour of the journey towards Cologne manically checking the Deutsche Bahn App, which showed us how many minutes our train was running late and what our chances were for making our next connection. The connecting train was late too, so after some short spurts on the platform we made it just in time. From then onwards, the trip was smooth sailing; we even got our own little cabin on the EuroStar from Brussels to London because our original seats had been double booked.
In London, we arrived at St. Pancras International and were due to leave the next morning from the adjacent King’s Cross station, so we stayed at a neat little hotel that was five minutes from the stations. Niina met her sister for dinner, while Eija visited platform 9¾ (from Harry Potter books/movies) and then spent a relaxing evening curled up with a book.
On Sunday, we embarked on the last long leg of the journey, a direct connection from London to Leuchars, followed by a short tax ride to St. Andrews. As our journey was drawing to a close, we took some time to reflect on our experiences.
Ever since I was a child, I have loved travelling by land. Why? Because land travel spells adventure, a tingling sense of excitement and surprise that flying just cannot supersede. On the plane you rarely enjoy the journey, you just wish it went fast and that you would not encounter turbulence, engine failure or an unpredictable fellow passenger. The sterile, isolated airports where you fight boredom with consumption are no match for the layered history of railway stations, the whiff of creosote in the air, and your freedom of movement. Plane travel is characterized by detachment: most of the time you are so far removed from the Earth and its inhabitants that it seems like a different reality. On the train, your soul is able to keep up with your body: you detect changes in vegetation, climate and architecture and pick up the different station names on the platforms. In more down-to-earth terms, on the land route you have several hours of uninterrupted time that you can use for reading, writing, going over your slides or just talking to your companion without having to shout over jet engine noise. I had such great fun on the way that, upon arrival at Leuchars station, I actually felt a tinge of sadness because the journey was now over. Never, ever have I felt that way after stepping off a plane.
Our journey from Finland to St Andrews by land was truly an adventure. Along the way we saw breathtaking views, had insightful conversations, a mentoring session, some stressful moments, as well as laughter. For the most part, our journey went very smoothly in terms of timing – thanks to Eija’s meticulous route planning. The most memorable moment for me on our journey was the connection from Stockholm to Hamburg on (oldish) night train. It felt as if we had travelled back in time some 20 years.
As Finland is quite hard to reach by land from the rest of the Europe, I didn’t have much experience of travelling abroad by land, apart from the other Nordic countries. So, in this respect, at least some kind of personal record was broken. In addition to minimising emissions, the most rewarding part of our journey was to experience and sense all the different ecosystems and cultures between our destinations. As our route traversed multiple countries, we heard different languages, observed changes in the climate, and witnessed changing landscapes. By the time we arrived at Leuchars train station, I felt more attuned to the climate, culture, and language of the region. In this respect, travelling by land is very different from flying. When flying, you usually just “pop in” at your final destination, and it takes a while to get used to the local “climate” in all senses of the word.
I want to acknowledge the privilege of being able to choose between land and air travel. In some cases, travelling by land can be more costly, and this usually correlates with the length of the journey. Furthermore, time constraints do not always allow you to travel at the leisurely pace that an on-land route might require.
Was it worth the effort? It was. Will I prioritise travelling by land in the future? Absolutely.
Practical tips for travelling by land:
Facts and figures: