The Quiet Traveller

“A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.” (Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching)

“Learn to relax and find meaning in the experience.

When you are forced to let go of the haste of normal life, it teaches you truths about yourself you had no idea you longed to know.

A slow traveller is just like a toddler – ambling out into the world at the whim of their own curiosity, searching for meaning and following whatever sparks their sense of adventure along the way.” (Dan Kieran, The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel)

Schaffhausen / Schafuuse / Schaffhouse / Sciaffusa / Schiaffusa (German / Swiss German / French / Italian / Romansh) is a city in northern Switzerland and the capital of the canton of the same name, with a population of nearly 35,000.

It is set on the north bank of the Rhine.

Schaffhausen has one of the most captivating medieval town centres in the whole of Switzerland, as well as, just 4 km downstream, the mighty Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall.

Yet it remains mostly uncelebrated as if it is too far north to be of concern to most visitors to Switzerland.

Lying at the point where boatmen unloaded their cargoes, the city was an important trading centre from the early Middle Ages.

The cobbled streets of its Old Town are lined with Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo buildings, some with frescoed facades and others with graceful oriel windows.

The impressive old canton fortress keep, the Munot, set on a vineyard hill overlooking the city, offers a fine view of Schaffhausen and the Rhine.

How does one discover a city then capture its essence in words?

Of course, there are the options of tourist and citizen.

A tourist is a person who spends time in a place focusing only on what guidebooks recommend seeing.

Nothing wrong with this, per se, but this “touch and go” method, in my opinion, doesn’t offer much in the way of truly experiencing a place.

A citizen, on the other hand, is preoccupied with making a living, so has a difficult time viewing a place outside his own limited experience of employment.

I favor a third option, which I like to call “quiet travelling”, based on a legend of Chinese travel writer / painter / poet / calligrapher Chiang Yee (1903 – 1977).

His books characteristically bring a fresh ‘sideways look’, in a peaceful and non-judgemental way, to places, perhaps unfamiliar at the time to a Chinese national.

Yee was struck by things the locals might not notice, such as beards, or the fact that the so-called Lion’s Haunch on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh is actually far more like a sleeping elephant.

In his wartime books, Chiang Yee made it plain that he was fervently opposed to Nazism.

His writings exude a feeling of positive curiosity, life-enhancing in a unique way.

There is a legend about Chiang Yee that suggests his idea of travelling was to find a bench somewhere many people pass by and to simply observe quietly life happening around him.

My approach to discovering a place, when time permits, is not only to see the sights that attract tourists, but as well try to connect with a place by meeting its people, both past and present, through an exploration of its literature, art and music, and as well as informal interviews with locals I happen to meet.

My first step is to, quite simply, get lost, to explore like a toddler and follow my fancy and my feet wherever they may lead me.

“Leave the door open for the unknown.

Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?” (Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost)

“All experience, in matters of philosophical discovery, teaches us that, in such discovery, it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely.” (Edgar Allan Poe, The Daguerreotype)

“It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable, experience to be lost in the woods any time. Not till we are completely lost, or turned around, do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature. Not till we are lost, in other woods, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

I spent most of this week, and plan to spend part of next week, exploring Schaffhausen.

Let´s get lost together…


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