19 January 2014

RIVER-CRUISING MUSING: The Sounds of Travel

Walking in the snow on Mt Rigi
in Switzerland.
Photo:Zentralschweiz Tourismus
It could well be that the sound of creaking snow means nothing to you. To me it’s one of the most delightful of travel sounds: the squeaky, creaky noise produced when walking in boots along a path of relatively compact snow. (God knows, the Inuit probably have a word for it.) I was quite delighted when I read Memory to discover that Nabokov had a similar fondness for this sound when he recalled his childhood in Russia.
I’m sure everyone has their own favourite travel sounds, and I’d be glad to hear them, so please add your comments below. So it mystifies me when I see passengers on river cruises with their earplugs in, listening to music on their iPods. Why would they cut themselves off from the foreignness of sounds? They wouldn’t wander about with blindfolds on, yet are quite prepared to deny themselves another of the five senses.
Music, as everyone has experienced, can transport us instantly back to a certain time and place, demonstrating a remarkable connection between the ear and memory. Talking of Russia, the composer Stravinsky recalled the sounds of his youth in St Petersburg: the calls of street vendors, church bells, cartwheels on cobblestones and even that susurration of sound just before the curtain goes up in a theatre.
A giraffe munching on acacia leaves.
Photo: South African Tourism
Different people have different brains, of course: some are visual, some factual, some auditory. The English poet Alfred Tennyson obviously had a good ear. One of my favourite sound descriptions might be from a Tennyson poem: “The moan of doves in immemorial elms / And murmuring of innumerable bees”, which sounds like just the thing it describes.
For ordinary travellers, it’s just about pinning back our ears and having a good listen. I’ll never forget the street cries of the ice-cream sellers in the towns along the Yangtze River in China: “Wa! Wa! Bingjilin!Or the ding-ding and rattle of trams in cities from Vienna to Prague that seems so quinessentially central European. Or that ripping noise as giraffes yank acacia leaves from a tree with their big blue tongues, something I heard while in Botswana (where yes, you can do a river cruise).
A flock of cockatoos
in the Australian outback.
Photo: Destination NSW
Another rather unusual river-cruise destination is the Murray in Australia – incidentally, the world’s second-longest navigable river after the Mississippi. Nothing is more wonderfully Australian to me than a screech of cockatoos against a blue country sky.
Sounds are everywhere and just as culturally diverse – and as specific to a place – as sights or food or language. So when I’m on a river cruise or a shore excursion, my ears are always flapping in the breeze, waiting for the crunch of boots in snow.


We’d love to hear what your favourite travel sounds are, so why not leave a comment and join the conversation?

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