Thursday, February 1, 2024

Winter meditations...

Every month I edit an alpine newsletter - here is my introduction to February's issue

Twenty years ago, the philosopher Alain de Botton published a collection of essays titled The Art of Travel. They’re a witty and playful reflection on the pitfalls and disappointments of our urge to explore, to sightsee, to find ourselves or a putative nirvana…

If there’s a theme to his musings, it’s that the process of planning and anticipation is the chief pleasure of any adventure – thereafter, the reality invariably falls short of our idealising. Most of us, I expect, will have experienced something of the sort.

Perhaps this is why, whenever I make a trip to the mountains, I refuse to look at the weather until I arrive. To be clear, I still meticulously research what’s likely to be the case (a holiday of Scottish midges taught me that lesson) — but once the tickets are booked and we’re committed to going, I regard the forecast as nothing more than a source of potential disappointment.

My friends laugh at this eccentricity, regarding it a sort of superstition. Perhaps there’s some truth in that, but I’ve come to look forward to the element of surprise — and to making the most of whatever we encounter. This week I arrived in the Alps for some skiing, only to be greeted by biblical rain… but then again, for a kayaker, the river is running at its brim-full best.

And you know, for all I like Alain de Botton’s writing, I reckon he’s wrong that we’re doomed to disappointment. My travel memories are as much of people as they are of places; of what could never have been planned as much as what was. Last night the temperature fell by ten degrees, and we awoke to snowscape that I venture would surpass any expectation, or serve as nirvana for all but the most jaundiced or joyless of heart.

I’m glad that hills don’t dance to anyone’s tune.


  1. And that's the key, isn't it? The ability to bend our ideals to fit the reality of where we are. It sounds like you had the best of both worlds on this trip!

  2. I'm currently enjoying planning a May/June trip to Slovenia (mostly walking in Julian Alps and elsewhere, plus some sightseeing - caves, castles etc) , but these days I find it a dilemma as to exactly how much research to conduct. Is it really helpful to study all the reviews for accommodation, restaurants etc. and to look on Google Earth at all the places we plan to visit? An element of surprise is surely an essential aspect of all satisfying travel.
    I'm glad the snow found you!
    Cheers, Gail.

  3. Whatever the weather there is always something to do..even if it does end up being indoors!

  4. Hari OM
    It is my experience that the best monitor of weather is how it feels and looks when you open the window or door in the morning. After that, anything goes! YAM xx

  5. I never have any expectations when it comes to weather, that way I'm pleasantly surprised when the sun comes out! Are you never tempted to have a peak at the forecast?

  6. I always took a peek at the forecast, to see what I was getting into. Never stopped me from going.

  7. I am reminded by people who ask on Facebook pages about certain travel destinations what the weather will be like in two weeks' (or even longer) time. WHO KNOWS? There will always be something to do, no matter what. Unless of course there's a hurricane but if you make travel plans in that season, you're sort of playing the odds and taking your chances.

  8. Couldn't agree more that travel is about the people - the accidental meetings more often than not. The places are lifeless without them - even the best (or most visited) ancient sites are just piles of rocks compared to the people you encounter within them - fellow travelers, guides, interpreters (interpreters of what you see). As for weather -that too is life. There is no such thing as bad weather - just the wrong clothes.

  9. In the days when we traveled, if we were going we were going...could always buy any necessary clothes once there if the weather was vile.