Days 12-14: Aarhus-Andalusia, and the carbon footprint

Oh no! After all my smug desciptions of the ease of international train travel, in the interests of being less environmentally disastrous, it went kind of all wrong when I tried to get from Aarhus to Andalucia! And, I regret to announce, I won’t even be able satisfactorily to conclude the tale of my earlier encounter with the useless!

The travel

Heading back south, I get the train from Aarhus to Kolding (didn’t see much of it, but it was sunny and had a nice lake, so fair play); the Cologne train rumbles in and I step into my compartment, and explain in Bad Swedish, Bad German, and English, who I am. You know, hoping just to put people at their ease. And these five women who are already in there all just stare at me like I’ve just beamed down from the Starship Enterprise. I actually thought I must have accidentally booked into a women’s only compartment or something. But the conductor, when he comes by, doesn’t kick me out, and gradually it dawns on me that nearly everyone in the carriage is Dutch, and the train’s ultimate destination Amsterdam, and bit by bit they thaw until around lights-out we’re actually at the point of having an actual conversation. Maybe the Bad Swedish derailed them. I realise the next morning that the other person’s French, also changing in Cologne, and once we’ve got that sorted out we get on fine, with me dredging up my best Small Talk French for the occasion. The conductor switches to French to talk to her too; ‘Blimey, hard work talking in French when it’s, like, your fourth language’ he says to me afterwards in German, except that he says it in about four times as many sentences with, to judge from his expression, much greater elegance and wit. Lost for a suitably witty response I simply nod with the enthusiatic wryness of a total idiot.

What the conductor was explaining to the French passenger is that we’re four hours behind schedule; we have to get out at Dortmund (hello Dortmund! I have now seen platform 11 of your railway station!) to get a different service to Cologne; but I’ve got plenty of slack in the timetable, and they put us on a new train to Paris, and I’m still feeling pretty train-smug. And at somewhat less than 12kg of CO2-equivalent emissions from Aarhus to Cologne, I’m not doing too badly. I get talking to a Rwandan footballer-turned-football coach with an enormous cardboard box in addition to a superfluity of large sports bags, whose legs, as he tries to fold them under the table where we’re sitting, look long enough to belong to a giraffe.

The train grinds to a halt in Eschweiler. No, I hadn’t heard if it either. Apparently there’s a forest-fire, which the German lady at the opposite table says could only be due to arson (‘I mean, this is Germany, you just don’t have forest fires in Germany’); and we’re going to have to get out and wait for some coaches to drive us to Aachen so we can carry on. At this point my train-smugness is diminishing.

Though I do kind of like it when train-services go to pieces. One of the first times I took a long train journey in the UK, I was delayed and I was sitting there going ARRRGH, I’m going to be LATE. ARRRRGH! And then I realised that the beauty of train travel is precisely that if you’re running late, you can’t do anything about it. It’s one of the few situations where I really manage to sit back and let life take its course. And it’s when you get down to properly hanging out with people. Emboldened by my 25% comprehension of the German conductor earlier in the day, I attempt to ask if anyone would like some of the nuts I’ve got stashed away as emergency supplies. ‘Oh, I love nuts’, says the German lady, and goes on to eat them all. I am too polite, and embarrassed at my own language-hubris, to intervene. I help the footballer move his stuff off the train and chat to a French school-leaver about François Hollande and Scottish devolution, and in a couple of hours I’m on a new train in Aachen (hello Aachen! I have now seen your railway station!) and on my way again.

By the time I fetch up in Paris, my Eurolines coach from Paris to Madrid–no, Eurolines never did reply to my emails, or call me back–is long gone. So I never did get to rave at them in Bad French until they let me onto the bus. Last time I took a European trip this long–when I went to Hungary–I got an interrail pass and just told my host in Budapest that I’d arrive somewhere with a 48-hour window. This time I had a more specific appointment and found myself squeezing, heavy-hearted, into a metro train to Charles de Gaulle airport to try and get a flight to Málaga, along with an American postgrad making a desperate, low-budget bid to catch her flight home from Madrid so as not be stranded, penniless, on the wrong side of the Atlantic. It wasn’t that expensive to fly to Malaga nor that difficult to arrange it, even at such short notice; and as for my Madrid-Malaga train journey, although the Spanish train company website is RUBBISH, you can, bless them, cancel your ticket and get a lot of the money back. But it was a sad defeat of my environmentalist efforts. Lesson learned: give yourself more slack on two-day European train journeys!

The carbon consequences

The journey I should have had:

journey distance CO2-equivalent emissions per passanger-kilometre
(click on link for source)
emissions, CO2-eq putative 2.5 multiplier for high-altitude emissions
Paris-Madrid (coach) 1,253km (shortest route on Google Maps) 20g 25kg 25kg
Madrid-Málaga (train) c. 550km (based on Google Maps) 26g (p. 8) 14.3kg N/A
grand total 39.3kg N/A

The journey I actually had:

journey distance CO2-equivalent emissions per passanger-kilometre
(click on link for source)
emissions, CO2-eq putative 2.5 multiplier for high-altitude emissions

Madrid-Málaga (plane) 1456km (Mapcrow) 155g) 226kg 565kg

The average UK citizen has an annual CO2-eq footprint of about 12 tonnes per year–and my flight probably accounted for about half a tonne of emissions. The sustainable carbon footprint per person might be up to about 2 tonnes–so this flight alone probably accounted for a quarter of my annual allowance.

Why was Alaric going to Andalusia anyway?

Well, for various reasons I wound up on a traditional, sedentary holiday. I did a few travelblogueworthy things, but not that many! But it was fun. If I had fewer emails to deal with I’d tell you more, but for now I’d better leave off bloguing. Look out, though, for an assessment of the year’s carbon footprint around the end of September!


About alarichall
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