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Matt Frei's diary: Grounded

22:14 UK time, Tuesday, 20 April 2010
MattFrei.jpgAs flights slowly begin to take off again in Europe after days of travel chaos, Matt Frei, presenter of BBC World News America reflects on the beauty and pain of travel - both by air and by ground.

Matt says: "Nature has simply left us all guessing and probing. The barricades of preconceived ideas have momentarily been dismantled. We are all becoming amateur volcanologists."

Send us your reaction to Matt Frei's Diary


  • Comment number 1.

    Bravo! Brilliantly put Matt.

  • Comment number 2.

    Matt calls it "nature" I call it Act Of God! Was telling my son this morning, we think we are SO in control, yet when something like this happens we realize how little we are to a huge & powerful God, who fills the earth & sky! We can ignore Him, but not for ever! Been reading about His power in Exodus chapters 1 - 15 I explained, most insurance does not cover Act Of God & when they say God we all know which one they mean! Who would have thought somthing so FAR away could affect us here! I have family who went to DUBI for a holiday with thir children & they can't get back!! It has affected so many people all around the world. I wish them all a safe journey back home. It's good to go on holiday, but nothing beats home & your own bed!

  • Comment number 3.

    Matt - well summed up. I've been lucky and travelled extensively throughout my career since the end of the seventies. I have of course encountered all sorts of dilemmas, 'sit down and figure out what's shall I do next moments' and spent endless hours in departure lounges but would not swap the memories and experience for anything. I wasn't trapped by the volcano, but strangely I felt somewhat claustrophobic when the UK airspace was closed.

  • Comment number 4.

    Matt Frei? never heard of this geezer.

  • Comment number 5.

    I found the pictures of the Volcano to be particularly fascinating to view. Especially the ones with the lightening in the center.

    The awesome force of Mother Nature at her finest.

  • Comment number 6.

    I travelled the Trans Siberian from Beijing to Moscow in 1994 and your diary brought it all back. Many times I have told people how great the journey was becaue it gives you a sense of how far you have travelled. You never get that with planes. Thanks for reminding me - though the food I could happily forget.

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree with Matt. I have travelled many times by plane, for longer than I can remember, to many countries. Despite the delays and security checks, the amateur travellers blocking the quickest route and the disrupted sleep caused by time zone changes I still love it. But, an overland journey is a treat: I travelled from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and back every week for two years, have taken trains in Egypt and Poland when I could have flown. I have even left Syria by taxi, twice. It always provides an interesting alternative to flying.

  • Comment number 8.

    A treat to read amidst the usually chaotic news. Serendipitous indeed! Hadn't read or heard of Matt before, but that was before.. Thanks.

  • Comment number 9.

    This puts us all in our place, we are not in control although some people think they are we are all here today and at the mercy of the elements so whatever nature throws at us with all our sophisticated knowledge we are still helpless, a time to reflect I think.

  • Comment number 10.

    Excellent piece Matt, I'm with you all the way. Just a word of warning though; crying and wine cause dehydration in a plane, so go easy on both!

  • Comment number 11.

    Nicely done Mr Frei (as ever - loved your book on Italy). As a rule I travel between the USA and UK a few times a year and relate entirely to Matt's 'inward and cocooned' jet experience, including the wine. However I have also sailed across the north Atlantic three times, which generally takes about three or four weeks in an 'average' sail boat. In its way it is as insular as flying except you get to also be the pilot and to see a lot of raw nature eyeball to eyeball, sometimes as terrifying as it is beautiful, but mostly fairly benign. So you need a lot of books or perhaps a guitar or whatever to while away the hours (don't take a good one). I always berate anyone who complains about the seven hour flight to the eastern seaboard of the USA from London being uncomfortable, reminding them (and myself) that we live in an exceptional age of privilege insofar as travel is concerned. Mt unpronounceable has indeed reminded us all of this.

    However, I do have one observation to make about the contrast to making the journey in 7 hours at 38,000 feet and doing it in a month at sea level. I used to kid myself that it was a great way to avoid jet lag. The reality is that instead you suffer from 'culture lag'. World events happen that you have no idea about. Things happen closer to home and family that you are also oblivious to. But the real shock comes when you arrive, likely feeling slightly euphoric about having done what in your own mind has assumed enormous importance and taken on the mantel of a great achievement. Only to discover that absolutely nobody can relate to you except the few other people who have done something similar or akin to real adventuring of their own. That's when you realise just how sanitized and prescribed modern life has become. Still, provided you got across in one piece, and I've known folk who didn't (rest their souls) you are at least amazingly fit and healthy, which of course makes people even more suspicious....

  • Comment number 12.

    This is very good stuff indeed. Hearing Mat's comment about travel in the 1980's brought back some great memories for me of a less organised but more exciting world.

    If he thinks that travelling through Siberia is a bit dull, he should try travelling on a container ship across the Indian Ocean. We went 7 days & nights without seeing land!

    But I wouldn't have missed it for the world ( If you excuse the pun) and I had much more fun travelling back to the UK from Australia in 12 weeks (By Ship) than in 22 hours (By Plane). At least you get a real chance of learning how vast our planet actually is.

    Incidentally, Matt's description of flying as "Internal travel where you happen to alight thousands of miles somewhere else" is one of the best travel descriptions that I have ever heared.

    Congratulations all round.

  • Comment number 13.


    Why no mention of how Mount Unpronounceable is filling the atmosphere with green house gases and conrtibuting to "Global Warming"? The simple truth is that man's effect on global temperature is miniscule compared to what Solar and Vulcan activity do.

    To whom do we send the bill for the "Carbion Credits" Mount Unpronounceable should purchase? Al Gore wants to know.

  • Comment number 14.

    I adore Matt Frei! I have read his books and try to watch all his programmes, I especially liked the series on Berlin-one of my favourite cities and, as a history teacher, particularly fascinating.
    This is the first time I have read his blog and I do so agree about the pleasures of slow overland travel, being a great fan of train and boat travel.
    Incidentally Matt completes my trio of BBC idols together with Michael Palin and David Attenborough.

  • Comment number 15.

    Gordon Brown should still be in Charge, Don't forget the newspapers were antie Labour, That had a big affect on the Votes. Gordon Brown is getting Britian Back on track, The Tories would not have bailed out the car intusty, and would not have solved the global mess, we would all go to rack and ruin if the tories had won.

  • Comment number 16.

    The Tories pretty well cleaned up in England,

    As the other parts of Britain have their own assembles and are mostly destructive to British polices relying on England only for money to underwrite their 'free' education/ health care etc, why are they even involved ?

    The Tories clearly have more votes so must form the next government

  • Comment number 17.

    I think that the whole idea of a coalition is not going to work at all! I mean, the whole point of having different parties is having different policies... that is why they are DIFFERENT PARTIES! So how exactly is it going to work? Even if two parties coincide with each other and make some sort of agreement, there is bound to be future problems and debates for the governing of our society. This is really not fair on the people because we vote for a party who can support and govern us in order to form a stable government, but the whole idea of a coalition with two parties is just going to make this country completely unstable and is just going to put us into a bigger crisis than we already are! Although I am not a Conservative supporter, I do think that the party win the most votes should be elected to be Prime Minister.

    (Just to say, I am not even an election voter because i am not 18 but I have very strong views on this as it affects aspects of my life and my future :] )

  • Comment number 18.

    I totally agree with Matt and also think that it is time we all think of travel alternatives that could be less polluting and more pleasant too even though it could take a lot longer!

  • Comment number 19.

    Regarding your tears at 30,000 feet, I find myself sometimes looking forward to a long flight, in order to enjoy the emotional release of a happy, sad or even neutral ending of a film. As a Real Man (tm) I find it difficult to cry at Sea Level, but the combination of dryness, low pressure, recirculated air and the relative solitute of seat 22B conspires to turn me into a sobbing mess. I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one that suffers/enjoys this ailment. Sorry, whoever you are in 22A!

  • Comment number 20.

    Exactly my feeling. My flight home from France was grounded and rather than spend days struggling to reenter my normal world, I stayed on here for 3 further weeks, working in the garden and knocking builders heads together. I leave in two hours; going back to my hectic Washington life which is paced by others, not me or the rain. There's a blackbird in the very point of the juniper opposite my window getting the fairground ride of its life in the stiff breeze - or could it be a crow (at this distance hard to tell) looking down at the birdbath like a prison guard in a tower - no, it is a blackbird, I can hear it singing. When, on earth, am I going to have time to waste like this again?

  • Comment number 21.

    No2 EbayTKMax.....If my Insurers told me that they were not going to pay up because an event was considered an act of "god",I would take them to court to force them to prove,a)That "god" actually exists,b)That "he" caused the event and therefore they would be excused from paying up..can you imagine ANYONE being able to prove that an imaginary friend exists? That some kind of multi-dimensional super-being is responsible for CERTAIN acts only and the rest can be classed as accidents? Just imagine that YOU are "god",would you have made us the way we are? Would you have created a creature such as the common house-fly,which has the amazing compound eye,able to see to almost 360*but is unable to know what it is looking at? This kind of pandering to primitive belief systems for emotional and metaphysical consolation,only serves to further erode the individuals ability to admit their own mortality.How odd of "god",to choose the Jews,but not as odd as those who choose,the Jewish "god",but not the Jews...Man made "god" in HIS own image,NOT the other way round.I hope that you one day free yourself from those who would have you believe,belief is the worst tool for attaining truth,knowledge is far better.By all means keep your faith,I just thought I'd share an alternative view with you,and maybe give food for thought about an ancient control system,that is really an ideology disguised as a "religion",Good luck!

  • Comment number 22.

    I love to travel but I no longer enjoy travelling by air. I can get around the uncomfortable, cramped conditions in coach if I choose to spend the money for first class but nothing can be done about the lost time, inconvenience and embarassment of the security measures.

    I do my travelling by auto now whenever possible. I can show up and depart whenever I please without having my luggage opened and answering a lot of fool questions (they do know terrorists can lie, don't they?) and listen to what I please instead of dozens of other people's conversations, screaming infants, etc. I can see the scenery and stop to stretch my legs whenever the mood strikes me and I can even get a real, honest to goodness meal along the way instead of a bag of peanuts for a six hour journey.

    I may get there slower but I arrive in a much better mood and I've enjoyed the trip.

  • Comment number 23.

    Years ago our ancestors discovered that if you hook a sail to a ship's mast the wind will power the ship across any ocean you might wish to choose. Later, our ancestors invented steam engines and rail travel was born and automobile engines were invented and overland travel was improved upon [although horses still hold a warm spot in my heart]. Alas, somewhere along the way we lost track of all of that and became totally obsessed with air travel. The thing of it is that airplanes have many limitations to where and when they can fly and this often causes us great expense and inconvenience. Further, air travel now presents us with great danger. It is not so much that they will experience mechanical trouble and fall out of the sky but will become the means for a terrorist's bomb to blow us out of the sky. Because of that we now have to endure endless restrictions and submit to endless means of being poked, prodded, x-rayed, photographed and subjected to procedures guaranteed to strip us of our dignity. For shorter trips I prefer to drive myself in my own automobile. I can leave and come home on my own schedule and I am free from any and all security checks. For longer trips I love the train. On a train one is able to relax and read or simply enjoy the view passing by. One can also purchase a compartment and enjoy quiet and privacy impossible on a plane. Oh for the time when great ships plied the seas and one could travel in comfort and luxury to far away places. I hope this Icelandic volcano keeps on belching smoke and debris indefinitely. Eventually someone will start coming up with the travel alternatives we used to have and they will become popular again [including the beloved horse].

  • Comment number 24.

    I enjoyed reading Matt Frei's comments on the volcano and hope that the volcano does not give cause for further airline stoppages next month.

    I have also enjoyed reading previous Matt's previous diary entries over the last year or so.


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