There is an undeniable rhythm to travel, particularly slow travel, that I adore. The clickety-clack of a train speeding along rails, the gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) bobbing of a boat, and my favourite, the clippety-clop of a horse. The rhythm of air travel is less evident; the pockets of turbulence more staccato than anything else, although I suppose you could find rhythm in the repetition of taking your shoes off and putting them back on, putting your toiletries in a plastic baggie and taking them back out again.
However you reach your destination; once you’re there, part of the joy of discovering a new place is learning its rhythm. In general, islands seem to have a slower rhythm than the mainland; cities are faster than towns which in turn are faster than villages. Each one is slightly different and often, the biggest clue to the rhythm of life in a new place is the music you hear on the streets.
One of the most magical moments I have experienced to date involved the irrevocable intertwining of rhythm and place. I was travelling with two friends through the Czech Republic. It had been a long journey on multiple trains through sprawling, nondescript and overwhelmingly grey cities. We made our final connection to a train leaving České Budějovice and sat, exhausted, slumped up against the windows of the train staring out at the city spreading out as far as the eye could see. All of a sudden, the train stuttered and slowed its pace by almost half, and the city disappeared as the train entered a dappled forest of trees. Almost simultaneously, a group of passengers in nearby seats brought out instruments and struck up a rather lovely medley of tunes which sounded Bohemian, exotic and terribly romantic. I felt my tiredness slip away as the whole carriage joined in, clapping and singing along with this band of minstrel players. They weren’t playing for money; they were playing for the love of it. When we left the train at České Krumlov there were smiles on our faces, our spirits were lighter and we were filled with the romance of adventure.
Wandering down the spiral steps from the train station, we caught tantalising glimpses of this ancient town through the trees, and then a bridge appeared in front of us. Dusk was falling as we made our way through the city gates and up the winding cobblestone streets. Gas lamps flickered as we passed by and the scent of wood smoke filled the chilly October air. And then the most wonderful thing happened. Up the hill ahead of us, a house flung its top windows wide open, light streaming out into the dark street ahead of us. Through those windows came the most exquisite, most hauntingly beautiful melody I have ever heard. There were no instruments, just the swell of many, many voices, and it stopped us dead in our tracks. All three of us stood, faces turned upwards towards that window streaming light and music out into the evening fog and listened for what seemed like an eternity, until the music faded away and the hum of chatter took over. Then, without a word, we linked arms and continued our journey up the cobbled streets, forever changed by that one brief, heart-achingly magical moment.
Have you ever had a moment like that? I’d love to hear your story and see your photos. If you’d like to join in, create your own post between now and next Friday, title it “Travel theme: Rhythm” and put a link to this page in your blog post to make it easy for others to find your post. Do you have a favourite place that is defined by its rhythm?