1001 things to do before you die…. How many years have I got left to fit them all in? Instant culture, instant tan, then a weekend of beer and oblivion in Prague to recover: I feel frazzled just thinking about it. How is it that our target-ridden culture has spilled over into every waking moment?
Our Greek hike was the perfect antidote, slow travel at its best. People asked me before we left how far it was. I didn’t know. We knew our route would vary according to the weather, how we felt and what happened on the way. And I still don’t know exactly. Sometimes the GPS was flummoxed by the cliffs and gorges, so we could only guess how far we’d walked. Once or twice the battery ran out, and I’d forgotten to buy spares. Actually, I don’t really care how far it was, and maths was never my strong point anyway. It was a long way – over a thousand kilometres. Far enough.
The other question is how far we walked each day. Again, it’s impossible to give an average. Sometimes it was less than ten kilometres, especially if there was a mountain to climb or the path was tricky. Occasionally, it was over thirty kilometres. We were often tempted to push on too fast, wanting to reach the next village, and perhaps a meal or a bed. Slowly, we learnt that it was better to take our time, to camp early and to stop for lunch.
We had all summer and autumn: there was no hurry. We could deviate from the North-South route to make an almost complete circle round the traditional villages of the Zagoria. There was time to stop and admire the flowers and the scenery, and explore the local history. For such a long trip, it was worthwhile brushing
up our Greek beforehand, so we could make the most of conversations along the way. And as we walked, there was time to dream, to let our minds wander, to sink into the routine of one foot after the other. Perhaps best of all, there was no wifi in the villages, and we escaped from the relentless busyness of emails and online news.
There’s two sides to slow travel, though. It’s a brilliant antidote to the stress of everyday life, but it’s also low carbon. Camping out, and carrying everything we needed on our backs: how little we needed to be happy. Life settles into a different perspective.
Our journey to Greece had been slow as well. We got the Eurostar to Paris, then the overnight sleeper to Venice. We’d been that way before, and now we knew our way round Venice, and where to eat off the main tourist trail. After a couple of days we got the onward ferry to Greece, and the slow train from Athens north.
But the folks on Lake Prespa were one step ahead of us. They’d invented the idea of “stay at home travel”. Settle down in a beautiful place and let the world come to you.