Passport: 'The Soviet border guards thought I was a spy'

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The Independent Travel
"I'v'e just come back from the European Green Summit on Employment - that was in Luxembourg... but that's not very exciting, is it?" Mike Woodin laughs. "It was very wet, and the place was full of bureaucratic, concrete- looking buildings. But at least I got to try out Eurostar for the first time. It was pretty slow in England and Belgium because of the speed restrictions. Still, train travel is greener than flying."

In 1991 he took a 140-hour train journey from Oxford to Kazakhstan's capital, Dushanbe.

"I read Paul Theroux for inspiration, and loved the whole journey," Woodin recalls. Except perhaps for one Soviet border stop as he neared his destination.

"A group of women in traditional tribal costume came to the train selling loaves of bread. Afterwards, they all sat in a group huddled under the shadow of the train, - it was a rare moment, and I took a photo. Then the guard and a policeman hauled me into the train's office and accused me of being a spy!"

Luckily, one of his travelling companions spoke Russian, and explained that Woodin wasn't interested in military secrets but that he had taken a fancy to the ladies.

"The guards laughed, then showed me their own version of a Page Three calendar - photos of Russian women with their veils coyly lifted to one side."

Woodin's passport does show a few plane journeys, however, including one trip to the Pamir mountains in Tadjikistan.

"I love mountains. You get a certain sense of perspective when you get to the top and look at the world around you, and think: "Isn't it amazing."

Next month, Woodin's passport will bear a Japanese stamp when he attends the Kyoto Conference on Climate Change where the Green Party is presenting a programme to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

And what about any green pearls of wisdom for travellers?

"Fly less," Woodin urges. "Air travel is inefficient and emits vast quantities of carbon dioxide. Try out other forms of transport, and enjoy the journey as part of your holiday."

Mike Woodin is principal speaker for the Green Party

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