I’ve just booked travel for getting to Riga, Latvia for GUADEC 2023, and I thought I’d quickly write up my travel plans in case it saves someone else some time in planning travel.
I am not flying, because planes are too polluting. Instead, I am taking the train to Lübeck in Germany, then an overnight ferry to Liepāja, and then a bus the following morning to Riga. It’s a bit slower, but means it’s a bit easier to get some hacking done, stretch my legs and move around, and not fund fossil fuel companies as much. I’ll get enough stopover time in Köln, Hamburg and Lübeck to quickly look round, and a night in Liepāja to see it.
Overall the travel time is just over 2 days, with half of that spent on trains, and half on a ferry. By comparison, a flight is about 7 hours (5 hours flying, 2 hours faffing in airports) plus travel time to the airport.
The carbon emissions (140kgCO2e return) are roughly a quarter of those from flying (520kgCO2e), and interestingly a significant part of those emissions (46kgCO2e) is the 3 hour bus journey to get from Liepāja to Riga, though that’s quite sensitive to the occupancy level of the bus.
The financial cost (£800 return) is about two times that of flying (£380), though I have not factored in the costs of getting to/from airports and have not fully explored the hidden fees for baggage and other essentials so the ratio might be a little lower. This is quite upsetting. A disproportionate part of the cost (£178 return) is the Eurostar, because it’s oversubscribed and I missed the early ticket releases due to waiting for grant approval. Perhaps I should not wait next time.
Eurostar from London to Brussels-Midi, departing 07:04
Train from Brussels-Midi to Lübeck-Travemünde Skandinavienkai, departing 10:25 (ICE 15, ICE 200, RE 11428, RB 11528)
Nice walk from there to the ferry terminal for half an hour
Overnight ferry from Lübeck/Travemünde to Liepāja, departing 23:30
On 2023-07-23: On the ferry all day, then stay overnight in Liepāja
On 2023-07-24: Bus from Liepāja to Riga, departing early morning
I strongly looked at taking the train from Hamburg to Stockholm, and then the ferry from there to Ventspils. Unfortunately, it has limited capacity and there is track maintenance planned for around my travel dates, so I could not get suitable tickets. It would have made the timings a little more convenient overall, for about the same overall carbon emissions and cost.
If anybody else is going overland from the UK or far-western Europe, this is hopefully a sensible route for you to take, and it would be lovely if you wanted to join me. I will be arriving 2 days early for GUADEC (as we’re having an Endless OS Foundation meetup), but if you wanted to do the same journey 1 or 2 days later then it shouldn’t differ significantly. In any case, I can put you in touch with others making this journey if you want.
I’m really pleased with how the mini-GUADEC in Berlin turned out. We had a really productive conference, with various collaborations speeding up progress on Files, display colour handling, Shell, adaptive apps, and a host of other things. We watched and gave talks, and that seemed to work really well. The conference ran from 15:00 to 22:00 in Berlin time, and breaks in the schedule matched when people got hungry in Berlin, so I’d say the timings worked nicely. It helped to be in a city where things are open late.
c-base provided us with a cool inside space, a nice outdoor seating area next to the river, reliable internet, quality A/V equipment and support for using it, and a big beamer for watching talks. They also had a bar open later in the day, and there were several food options nearby.
At least from our end, GUADEC 2022 managed to be an effective hybrid conference. Hopefully people in Guadalajara had a similarly good experience?
Tobias and I spent a productive half a day working through a load of UI papercuts in GNOME Software, closing a number of open issues, including some where we’d failed to make progress for months. The benefits of in-person discussion!
Sadly despite organising the mini-GUADEC, Sonny couldn’t join us due to catching COVID. So far it looks like others avoided getting ill.
I took the train from north-west England to London one evening and stayed the night with friends in London. This would normally have worked fine, but that was the second-hottest day of the heatwave, and the UK’s rails aren’t designed for air temperatures above 30°C. So the train was 2.5 hours delayed. Thankfully I had time in the plan to accommodate this.
The following morning, I took the 09:01 Eurostar to Brussels, and then an ICE at 14:25 to Berlin (via Köln). This worked well — rails on the continent are designed for higher temperatures than those in the UK.
The journey was the same in reverse, leaving Berlin at 08:34 in time for a 18:52 Eurostar. It should have been possible to then get the last train from London to the north-west of England on the same day, but in the end I changed plans and visited friends near London for the weekend.
I took 2 litres of water with me each way, and grabbed some food beforehand and at Köln, rather than trying to get food on the train. This worked well.
Within Berlin, I used a single 9EUR monatskarte for all travel. This is an amazing policy by the German government, and subjectively it seemed like it was being widely used. It would be interesting to see how it has affected car usage vs public transport usage over several months.
Overall, I estimate the return train trip to Berlin emitted 52kgCO2e, compared to 2610kgCO2e from flying Manchester to Guadalajara (via Houston). That’s an impact 50× lower. 52kgCO2e is about the same emissions as 2 weeks of a vegetarian diet; 2610kgCO2e is about the same as an entire year of eating a meat-heavy diet.
That’s very true. One of the exceptions, though, is flying: the choices each of the ~20 people at mini-GUADEC made resulted in not emitting up to 50 tonnes of CO2e in flights. That’s because flights each have a significant emissions cost, and are largely avoidable. (Doing emissions calculations for counterfactuals is a slippery business, but hopefully the 50 tonne figure is illustrative even if it can’t be precise.)
So it’s pretty excellent that the GNOME community supports satellite conferences, and I strongly hope this is something which we can continue to do for our big conferences in future.
It’s easy to spend an entire day at the technical museum. One of the train sheds was closed while I was there, which is a shame, but at least that freed up a few hours which I could spend looking at the printing and the jewellery making exhibits.
One of the nice things about the technical museum is that their displays of old machinery are largely functional: they regularly run demonstrations of entire paper making processes or linotype printing using the original machinery. In most other technical museums I’ve been to, the functioning equipment is limited to a steam engine or two and everything else is a static display.
The palaces in Potsdam were impressive, and look like a maintenance nightmare. In particular, the Grotto Hall in the Neues Palais was one of the most fantastical rooms I’ve ever seen. It’s quite a ridiculous display of wealth from the 18th century. The whole of Sanssouci Park made another nice day out, though taking a picnic would have been a good idea.
Thanks again to everyone who organised GUADEC in Guadalajara, Sonny and Tobias for organising the mini-GUADEC, the people at c-base for hosting us and providing A/V support, and the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring several of us to go to mini-GUADEC.