Can travel be environment-friendly?

Global warming never happened so now it’s called climate change. Politicians call for lower carbon gases emissions and a move away from fossil fuels while they travel the world over in planes. There are many confusing and contradicting stories, myths, facts and research about the environment and many of this is due to the vast vested interests that various companies have in the issue. One of the biggest industries to have an impact on the environment is travel.

In the air

People can travel by car, train, boat or plane but the latter remain the most popular and often the only option for long-distance travel. Those defending the airline industry, from travel agents to plane manufacturers, say that travelling by plane produces less carbon emission per person per kilometre than by car. There is no doubt about the efficiency of planes, able to cover vast distances by flying through the shortest routes in the air where there is little friction. Compare this to travelling by car, where friction between tyre and tarmac eventually wears away the rubber; roads need to be built at a very high cost and on average only 5 people fit in a car.

You can make the car more efficient per person by carrying more passengers, so the bus or coach is one level up the ‘green’ ladder. The plane takes it further by cramming in more and more people. Didn’t Ryanair want its passengers to stand up during the flight so that it can put more on board?

However, don’t take at face value what you see and hear. Planes require enormous amount of energy to take off. There is no other fuel at the moment, other than fossil fuels, that contain enough energy per kg to power a plane to the air. There is simply no other option. The figure often quoted to flatter plane travel is the carbon emission per person. This works only because there can be many more people in a plane compared to a car. However, irrespective of the number of people on board a plane, the aircraft will still take off and fly. As most aircraft do not fly at 100% capacity and there are many aircrafts flying at well below 50% capacity, the real figure for the emission per person is much much higher.

But let’s face it: we often don’t have a choice when flying. No one will take a coach from Europe to Asia. By the time you get there, it will be time to come back. The term necessary evil is quite fitting here.

What to do if you care for the environment?

The first step was to recognise that not all that is claimed about the environment is always correct.

Which one is better for the environment: drying your hands in the public toilets with tissues or the electric hand dryer? The electric dryer you might say. But what if the electricity is produced from burning fossil fuels? From nuclear reactors? There was also a carbon footprint involved in manufacturing the appliance. Are tissues any better? You need to grow the wood, cut it down, transport it to the factory, turn it into tissue paper that needs to be regularly replenished in the toilets all over the world. But at least growing the tree used up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The only way to find out is by calculating the emissions from each process and comparing.

How about recycling newspapers? Is this really a kind gesture to the environment? How much energy is necessary in the recycling chain? During the transport? Wouldn’t it be simpler to replace the cut-down trees with young ones which will provide more newspapers? This is what is meant by managed forests. Here again, growing trees means taking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Will we really know if recycling paper is better than growing new trees?

Here is a poorly explained article by the Daily Mail on why reusable cotton bags are not better than plastic bags. Whether the research behind it is right or wrong, it pays to think about it before following the crowd and buying a not-so-environment-friendly cotton bag. Intensive agricultural techniques coupled with converting cotton pods into clean usable cotton fabric may leave a big carbon footprint behind. Add to it the bulky transportation of the bags from one end of the world where cotton is grown to another end of the world where cotton bags are used. Plastic bags may not degrade quickly but that may be its advantage – you can reuse it just like cotton bags and many people do so.

So next time you fly or feel guilty about some practice that you think is harmful to the environment, think again. Travel may not be as environment-friendly as some want you to believe, but there are also other issues that people conveniently gloss over.

Places to visit in Poland

Poland is a former communism country and you can still see a few relics from the communist era: some shop assistants in small shops still behave as if they were in communist times. If you are interested in Polish history you should consider visiting Auschwitz and taking the communism tour with a guide in Krakow.

If you are a religious person or you just would like to see places where many people are going to pray you should visit Zielona Góra and Częstochowa.

If you would like to see nature at its best, climbing mountains and walking a lot, go to Zakopane where you can see some of the most beautiful places. One of them is Morskie oko (Sea eye). It takes about 4 hours to get there but the view is really worth it.

Other places to visit are Polish castles and lakes.

Places of interest in Poland

  • Kraków for its many cathedrals and Wawel Castle of course;
  • The salt mines of Wieliczka;
  • Będzin Castle, Olsztyn Castle and Siewierz Castle;
  • Castle ruins in Ogrodzieniec;
  • Wooden sacral architecture in Małopolska.

Must-see places

  • The Tatra Mountains in the south on the border between Poland and Slovakia. A good place to start is the town of Zakopane.
  • Gniezno for its ancient Polish history, in particular the legend of the 3 brothers Lech, Czech and Rus;
  • Częstochowa, where pilgrims converge to see the Black Madonna;
  • Słowiński National Park;
  • Białowieski National Park;
  • Warsaw, capital of Poland;
  • Gdańsk, its shipyard and where the Solidarity Movement started;
  • Malbork for its Gothic Castle;
  • Wrocław, 4th largest city of Poland, historically the capital of Silesia and only part of Poland since 1945;
  • Świdnica for its history and architecture.

Polish waters to explore

  • The 2000 lakes of Masuria;
  • the Soliński Dam in Solina;
  • the turquoise water of Wapnica lake in Międzyzdroje;
  • white water canoeing in Rawka river.

Individual trip or organized tour?

An individual tour is better for people who do not like to organise their time because of the timetable; they will be able to visit interesting places by themselves or are just happy to see a few places near by. Some people think also that organized tours are boring because of too talkative guides and being restricted to the group’s pace.

If you are very interested in knowing the real history of Poland and seeing many places a guided tour would be recommended.

A few hints about Poland and Polish people

Poland may be a rather modern country but there are a few things which are still done in the old-fashioned way. Make sure that you have money in your purse as in many places bank cards and any other means of payment apart from hard cash are not accepted! People are rather friendly but few will speak English.

Travelling across Poland

Public transport is quite well-developed so you should be not afraid to take a bus, tram or train but it would take you obviously much more time than if you would travel in your rented car.

Places to stay

You can find very cheap and comfortable apartments which will make you feel at home. It is also popular to rent rooms with self-catered facilities or with breakfast, lunch and dinner included in Zakopane or in cities close to the sea.

http://www.staypoland.com/wiecej-ofert.htm

http://www.zamiasto.com.pl/

Geographical London

The great city of London is often divided into the 4 cardinal points and each described, correctly or by assumption, in various ways. If you plan to visit London, it pays to know how Londoners describe their city.

East London

Historically known as the poor side of London, it is only barely changing nowadays, and much of that is due to the upcoming 2012 London Olympics which will take place in and around Stratford. In fact, the poverty of the area was one of the main factors for having the games there, the other being of course availability of space – this is provided by the previously neglected Lee Valley, now turned into a busy building site near completion where the stadium will be. Before the Olympic Games came to town, the only other prosperous area was part of Tower Hamlets, one of the most run-down area of London. This sounds contradictory but part of this borough is home to designers and artists, this is where Pete Doherty lives. If his drug habits are anything to go by, the rest of the borough is not much better!

The City of London is geographically on the east side. It is also known as the financial district and as its name describes, home to the head office of many high street banks, investment banks and other financial institutions such as Lloyds of London. This used to be the historical heart of London, where money changed hands, merchants prospered more often than not and business was made. The area is about 1 square mile in size but it is very compact and dense. The names of the streets themselves are historical, such as Threadneedle Street and just outside, Whitechapel Road where Jack the Ripper used to roam. St Paul’s Cathedral lies in the City of London and its roof, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in its modern form, is a feature of the rooftops of the city.

West London

Over to the other side, this is where the news are made. At the heart of West London is Westminster Parliament overlooked by this worldwide icon of London, the Big Ben. If you want to visit this area, the quickest way to reach it from the suburbs of London is by tube – get off at Westminster Station which is next to the Thames. Next to the Parliament building is Westminster Abbey. The abbey is over a thousand years old and is traditionally the venue where new royalty is crowned. The king is dead, long live the king! Sir Isaac Newton is buried there, with a globe on his tomb to symbolise his theory of gravity.

If money is made on the east side in the financial district, there is but a short distance for it to cover to get quickly spent on the west side, namely in the West End, the place where night never sets. This is because the place is crammed with theatres, night clubs, pubs and shops. It’s a hot spot for tourists and Oxford Street the mecca for shopaholics.

But the west is not all glimmer; parts of it are decaying as much as the east side. Further out west is Harrow, a place well-known for its multi-ethnicity and Indian food. It is rivalled in terms of ethnicity on the east side by the borough of Newham where the white British form in fact a small minority and the ethnic minorities are the majority. What contradictory terms.

Here flows a river

While the divide between east and west is not clear geographically, north and south of London are clearly separated by the largest river in the UK: the Thames. Famous bridges span this river such as Chelsea Bridge, London Bridge and Tower Bridge, another icon of London. Many hundred years ago, when the city was still weak and subject to attack from the mighty Vikings, the bridges were made of wood. The Vikings would tie their ships to the bridge and row furiously down river to bring the whole structure down. They didn’t earn their fearsome name for nothing!

North London

North London is neither rich nor poor yet houses both. The Islington area is now priced out for many people, this is where Tony Blair used to live before he became Prime Minister. The area around Hampstead Heath is a favourite among celebrities. Perhaps drugaddict George Micahel brings the area into disrepute but if you are a fan of his, you may find him there slumped at the wheel of a vehicle in the early hours of the morning. Camden town and its market is popular for its clothes and gothic shops. Beware the pickpockets operating on Sundays though.

South London

If you can forget about Lewisham and especially Brixton, a crime spot to rival America, then south of the river is a very pleasant place to be. The further west you travel, the brighter and more open it gets. As the east side of London used to be a port, it was crowded with people and buildings. The port eventually moved to Tilbury and factories moved up north where land was cheaper but the high density of buildings didn’t change much. Thus as you move from Greenwich and Lewisham, jumping over Elephant & Castle in the centre over to Streatham and then Wandsworth, Wimbledon and Richmond, streets open up and trees pop up either sides. Greenwich is famous for its observatory on top of the hill in the park of the same name. You will have an excellent view of London, canary Wharf and the Gerkin from there. Be sure to visit the observatory, it’s free. Down the hill is the Royal Maritime Museum, if you are into replicas of ships. And if you enjoy nature, Wimbledon Common, Richmond Park and its deers and of course Kew Gardens are all on the south side of the Thames.

Each quadrant of London cannot really be defined distinctively from its neighbours but Londoners living in their respective area love to set themselves apart from others – thus the north-south and the east-west divides. Now you can take part in that too.

London tube travel: mastering the ticket system

What is the tube? Many people new to London might not know that the tube is just another name for the metro, subway or underground train system. London’s underground train network is one of the oldest in the world, the oldest being probably Moscow’s.

You need a ticket before you get on the train. You can buy tickets at the ticket office or at the machines. On Sundays and bank holidays, ticket offices in smaller train stations are closed and if the ticket machine is out of order, you will be unable to buy a ticket before getting on the train. Fortunately, in these circumstances, you can buy a ticket at your destination before crossing the barrier.

There are usually guards at the barriers but again, in smaller stations, sometimes the guard is elsewhere, smoking a cigarette or on a platform. When they leave barriers unattended, they usually open these in case some people have a problem with their ticket and are unable to get in or out.

This means that if you cannot buy a ticket before getting on the train because the station is unmanned and the machine is down, the barriers will be open and you will be able to board your train. At your destination, if you are getting off at a quiet station outside central London on a Sunday or bank holiday, chances are the barriers will be open and unmanned. In this case you will be able to get out without needing a ticket, thus having travelled without having bought a ticket. For this reason, there are ticket inspectors operating.

There are ticket inspectors on board the trains but these are very very rare and you might never encounter them. Most often, ticket inspectors are within the station doing spot checks and during rush hours in order to catch most people. If you are travelling without a ticket on a Sunday and a ticket inspector stops you, then it is not your fault if you haven’t been able to buy a ticket at the ticket office because it was closed.

Oyster card

Prior to the introduction of oyster cards, it was easy to pass on a day or weekly ticket to someone else or buy a ticket at your destination and pretend that you got on just one stop before in order to pay less. There were also many ticket touts taking tickets from passengers who no longer needed them at the end of the day and selling these on for a profit to other passengers unwilling to pay full price for a ticket. London Underground was losing a lot of money that way and pushed hard for the introduction of Oyster cards.

Oyster cards are plastic cards with an embedded microchip which records all details of travel journeys. When you buy a season ticket, you have to hand over your personal details. London Underground is then able to track all the journeys that you make and also has your personal details to match them. Despite this massive breach of privacy, it was allowed to go ahead with the Oyster card system. The UK government also has a vested interest in this to combat terrorism, especially after the tube bombings of the 7th July 2005. With the Oyster card tracking all passengers’ movements, they can no pick the closest station as their point of entry when buying tickets at the gates.

Get a ticket receipt

The most important thing to remember when using the Oyster card is to get a receipt of the money you have put onto the card. If there is ever a mistake and the money doesn’t appear on your card, you cannot see it unless you go to a machine or the ticket office and get your card checked. Previously, when you handed over your money, you would get a paper ticket with the value on it. With an Oyster card, nothing shows whether there is money on the card or not. This is why it is very important to get a receipt when putting money on the card, even if it is for £1. That way, if someone inspects your card and says there is no money on it, you will be able to show the receipt and not have to pay a £50 fine because of £1.

Read more: Stratford transport hub