Transportation Solutions to the Negative Impact of Flying

It’s no secret that air travel is terrible for the environment, but how many people take this into consideration when booking their flights?  Prior to Covid-19, flying has been on the rise.  Although we’re seeing a slowdown, it is only temporary and people will eventually return to the skies. 

The flight shaming movement has gained some traction over the past few years, causing travelers to make conscious decisions, though only on a small scale.  If more people start to take the environmental impact of flying into consideration and look into train travel or other sustainable modes of transportation, maybe we can see a decrease in demand.

The Environmental Impact:

In 2019, airplanes contributed 915 million tons of CO2 emissions, that’s 2% of emissions worldwide and 12% of emissions from travel. Calculations from Blue Sky Model show that planes produce an average of 53 lbs of CO2 per air mile. In a previous post relating to carbon offsets and the aviation industry, I mentioned that air travel is expected to triple by the year 2050.

Although some airlines are investing in carbon offsets, and the ICAO and EPA have emission standards in place, it may not be enough. A lot of the focus is on CO2 emissions, but there’s much more to it. Aside from CO2, aircrafts also emit Nitrous Oxide, methane, and water vapor at high altitudes. 

According to Jeff Overton at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, water vapor itself has a short life span within the atmosphere and causes minimal warming directly.  However, it indirectly contributes to the productions of contrails and contrail-induced cirrus clouds.  Like other greenhouse gases, these contrails and clouds absorb infrared radiation and warm the atmosphere, but the effect is 3 times stronger than CO2.

The Future of Rail Travel

The goal is to make the most sustainable choice in regards to transportation.  Of course, there are going to be times when flying is necessary, like family emergencies, work obligations, or trips overseas.  But train travel is the most sustainable alternative and is where we should start shifting our focus.

A report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that trains produce the lowest amount of greenhouse gases when compared to other modes of transportation, yet they only carry 8% of the world’s passengers. 

The best rail systems in the world are found in Europe, Russia, and Asia, and are commonly used among travelers.  These systems have been well designed and many run on electricity, whereas trains in North and South America still run on diesel.  Although the train system in the U.S. doesn’t have the same efficiency or infrastructure, Amtrak has plenty of routes across the country and is making progress.

According to their website, the company is in the process of designing 28 high speed trains to add to their Acela Express service.  Currently the Acela Express has two routes, one between Washington D.C. and New York City, and one between New York City and Boston.  Their website also states that the decision to expand this fleet is based off the popular demand of these routes. If this new service continues to grow and succeed, it could potentially change the way we travel, expand railways, and make train travel more accessible.

The reality is that we need to drastically slow down air travel because our planet can’t keep up.  The airline industry is made up of corporations focused on profit, and will continue to grow if the market demands it.  In order to prevent this from happening we have to do our part, spread awareness, and make the best choices possible. Let’s give trains a chance and build a sustainable future.

Amicalola Falls State Park

The Northern side of Georgia is home to Chattahoochee National Forest and marks the beginning of the Blue Ridge mountains.  In this area, you’ll find yourself close to many hiking trails, waterfalls, and beautiful sights.  A special place, in particular, is Amicalola Falls, the highest waterfall in the state at 729 feet high.  From here there are trails for all levels, even wheelchair accessible points.  For those who are more adventurous, there is a 10-mile hike to the Southernmost point of the Appalachian Trail and Springer Mountain.

View from top of Amicalola Falls with red, green, and yellow trees surrounding the water.
View from the top of Amicalola Falls

When I visited during the first weekend of November, I was with my family, so long strenuous hikes were out of the question.  We still had an amazing time seeing the falls, driving through the mountains, and exploring other towns and parks in Georgia.

What you need to know:

Hours: 7:00 a.m.-Sunset

Entrance Fee: $5 per vehicle.

Upon entering the park, there is a parking lot and welcome center straight ahead, but we followed the road on the left which took us all the way to the top of the falls.  The parking lot halfway up the mountain is next to the west ridge falls access trail, which leads to the lower observation deck. 

The second parking lot at the top of the falls is located right next to the upper observation deck, as well as bathrooms, picnic tables, and a refreshment stand.  There is a stairway that connects the upper and lower levels, which is less than a quarter-mile, but of course one can drive between the two if preferred.

With this being one of the most popular parks in Georgia, it gets very crowded on the weekend and it can be tough to find parking, so I recommend going when it opens or during a weekday.

Where to stay:

Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge– Campsites, lodge rooms, and private cabins are the accommodations that can be booked within the park.  There are also adventure packages available to all guests.

There are several lodges and campgrounds nearby, and hotels can be found in the towns of Dahlonega and Gainesville.  However, we stayed at an Airbnb a little further out in the town of Commerce.

Nearby Sites:

The falls can be seen within 1-2 hours, which gave us plenty of time to explore other parts of Georgia.  Nearby there are vineyards, a gold mine, and more waterfalls and hiking trails.  We decided to take a drive through Helen, the alpine village, and then visit Unicoi State Park.

Helen is a charming Bavarian village filled with excitement and things to do.  Festivals are held throughout the year, including Oktoberfest.  There are also plenty of outdoor activities, like tubing, fishing, and hiking. On the northern edge of the city is Unicoi State Park and Anna Ruby Falls, one of the more popular trails.  Unicoi is nested on a beautiful lake with campgrounds and an adventure park, we decided to park and walk down the lake’s trail and take some photos. 

We enjoyed the weekend exploring all of the beauty and nature that Georgia has to offer.  It gave us the chance to get away from Florida’s continuous summer and experience fall.  We were able the colors of red and yellow throughout the mountains while breathing in the fresh air and taking the scenery in.  Leaving, I knew we were only seeing a small sliver of what Georgia has to offer, and that filled me with an eagerness to come back.

A Day Trip to Lier and Mechelen

Located just outside of Antwerp, Lier and Mechelen are two small villages filled with their own history and charm.  Separately, they can be seen in half a day, but due to their proximity I decided to combine my journey and visit both towns.  For anyone looking for things to do outside of the city, it is absolutely worth it to visit these places.

Transportation: Get a day pass for €7, which includes access to all city buses and trains. Lier and Mechelen are in the same province as Antwerp, so transportation is included under the same ticket. From Antwerp Central Station, Lier is a 15-minute train ride and Mechelen is a 20-minute train ride.

De Lijn is Belgium’s railway service, plan your trip with their route planner here.

Lier

After arriving by train, the best way to get to the center of town and explore Lier is by foot.  Just follow Antwerpsestraat over the bridge until you reach a big open square, here you will find Grote Markt and Town Hall, all of the other sites are just a short walk away. 

Town Hall and Belfry Tower: The Belfry was built in 1369 and is one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Lier, the Town Hall was later constructed in 1741. Inside there is a tourist information center and a free public restroom, which is kept very clean.  Access can be found on the left side of the building.

Front of Town Hall

Stadsmuseum: €4 entry. Upon entering the staff warmly greeted me and gave me an information card in English, though much of the museum is in Dutch.  The museum consists of three rooms and displays a nice collection of Pieter Bruegel’s works.  In the last room you will see a 3D printed replica of the Woolly Mammoth skeleton discovered in Lier in 1860, the real skeleton can be found at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels.  Located just up the street from Town Hall, this is a great place to stop in and learn about the city’s art, history, and traditions. 

Gevangenenpoort: Also known as the prison gate, this Medieval structure was built in 1375 and is the only remaining gate of the original city wall.  It was used as a prison until 1930, but now stands next to a hotel and opens up to a lovely street filled with cafes and restaurants and the Zimmer Tower and Museum.

Zimmer Tower: Originally built in the 1400’s under the name of the Cornelius Tower, this monument was restored by astronomer Louis Zimmer, who also added the Jubilee clock in 1930.  The clock is quite a wonder, with 12 unique dials all representing different astronomical events, like the phases of the moon and the solar cycle.  The tower was listed as a protected monument in 1980 and the Zimmer Tower now stands next to The Zimmer Tower Museum.

Jubilee Clock of Zimmer Tower

Begijnhof:  Also known as the Beguinage, this enclosed collection of buildings was built for spiritual women (beguines) to reside in during the Middle Ages.  These women were able to lead self-sustaining and unrestricted lives within these walls for hundreds of years, from the 13th century until 1994 when the last beguine died. 

This is 1 of 13 Beguinages that can be found across Belgium, and are such an integral part of the country’s history that they are now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Inside the walls you can find St. Margaret’s Church, a garden within Calvary Hill, an old convent and more.

Street in front of St. Margaret’s Church

When I visited in the middle of February, I felt lucky that the quaint little neighborhood was virtually empty, only to see a few locals leaving and entering the buildings.  I was able to take photos of the cobblestone streets and old houses while enjoying the history of this site.

Mechelen

To get to Mechelen from Lier, there are multiple buses that will take you, but the 560/561 to Mechelen are the most consistent lines and come every 30 minutes.  All buses pick up at Lier Markt/Grote Markt across from Town Hall, the bus stop is easily spotted and the ride is about 35 minutes.

Like Lier, I found Mechelen to be very walkable, although it is a little more car friendly and has a decent transportation system.  When I arrived in Mechelen I started off in Grote Markt, which was steps away from the main sites I wanted to see and gave me a chance to take some photos, relax, and read about the town mascot.

Direction Post featuring Obsinjoorke

Obsinjoorke:  Right in front of City Hall, is a small bronze statue with the most adorable and quirky background story.  He represents drunkards and womanizers, and is shown being tossed in the air as a form of punishment.  As I continued on, I was excited to see a large, bright yellow version of this statue across from St. Rumbold’s and again on a nearby post.  I don’t know if there are more Obsinjoorkes around town, but he can also be seen in Mechelen’s Ommegang, their annual religious procession.

Obsinjoorke displayed in front of St. Rumbold’s Cathedral

Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral and Tower:  Named after the Christian missionary Saint Rumbold, this gothic style cathedral began construction in the 13th century, and the tower was added during the final phase from 1452-1520. The tower was never completed due to financial deficits, although there were structural concerns as well.  Currently the tower stands at 97 meters with 514 steps to the top and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The cathedral and tower are usually open to visitors, but have closed their doors indefinitely due to the Coronavirus.

Beguinages:  I have to confess that I stumbled upon this place by accident while I was on my way to the brewery and only walked through briefly.  The Beguinage that existed outside the city walls of Mechelen was destroyed in 1560, the Beguines moved on to make a new neighborhood within the walls, and that’s how the Large Beguinage came to be.  Although it is included as a UNESCO site with the other Flemish Beguinages, I found this one to be quite unextraordinary, though it has it’s own unique history.

Het Anker:  With records dating back to 1369, this is one of the oldest breweries in Belgium.  Being founded by a group of Beguines, it makes sense that it is located on the Northern side of the Large Beguinage.  The brewery was managed by these women until 1872, when the Van Breedam family purchased and renovated it.

This brewery is the sole reason I decided to come to Mechelen due to it’s vast history.  Tours are available, but the spots do fill up quickly, so its best to make a reservation ahead of time.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a tour as I waited until the last minute, but I did have a chance to have enjoy a meal and try one of their Gouden Carolus beers at the brassiere upstairs.

Getting back to Antwerp: The best, and most reliable way to get back to Antwerp is by train, which takes between 15-20 minutes.  Trains leave from both Mechelen-Nekkerspoel and Malines/Mechelen station.

After returning back to my hostel, I was completely worn out from visiting to two towns in one day. Although it was completely worth it and I fully recommend visiting one or both of these cities. There is so much history and beauty hidden throughout Belgium, getting out of the 4 major cities is a great way to see discover it.

For more information, go to visitlier.be and visit.mechelen.be