Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2011/11 posted by hidden europe on

Readers of our e-brief have often asked us what else we do apart from hidden europe, so please indulge us as we give an example. Last year Thomas Cook Publishing, a company with which we always had enjoyed amiable relations, contracted us to take a long-standing Thomas Cook book and give it an entire new look. Not just slow trains over the Danube and through Poland, but appealing rail journeys throughout Europe. They did however particularly ask us to enhance coverage of central Europe, eastern Europe and the Balkan regions. The result is 'Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers' which was published last month.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

Over the last six years, in more than 200 issues of our e-brief and in 33 editions of our print magazine, we have mapped many of our favourite rail journeys around Europe. Perhaps you joined us as we noted a rumble of thunder on a sultry July evening as the local train to Budapest waited for a dozen minutes on a girder bridge over the Danube. Our train stood there, poised to enter the city, balanced on a steel skeleton while suddenly the whole history of central Europe slipped by in the river below.

Or do you remember where we noted the face of the woman in the Polish signal box? She leant out of the window and cast a nod at our passing train. And in that face we saw the lines of a life shaped by the rhythm of the train timetable.

Europe by Rail: the book

Readers of our e-brief have often asked us what else we do apart from hidden europe, so please indulge us as we give an example. Last year Thomas Cook Publishing, a company with which we always had enjoyed amiable relations, contracted us to take a long-standing Thomas Cook book and give it an entire new look. Not just slow trains over the Danube and through Poland, but appealing rail journeys throughout Europe. They did however particularly ask us to enhance coverage of central Europe, eastern Europe and the Balkan regions. The result is Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers which was published last month.

The book has an interesting pedigree. Thomas Cook ran his first charter train in 1841 and over the following 30 years developed a considerable business escorting clients on tours by rail around Europe and further afield. But by the early 1870s, he realised that he could no longer guide each tour personally and so started a series of guidebooks that allowed independent travellers to explore the continent alone. From the outset, his guides were modelled around recommended rail routes. He briefed travellers on the best routes from London to the Channel ports, advised on whether the Rhine Valley route to the Alps had the edge over options through Paris and Burgundy, and showed a benevolent concern for the well-being of his readers.

A new look

The structure of Europe by Rail reflects Thomas Cook's enthusiasm for journeys as well as destinations. The new edition recalls Thomas Cook's earlier guides by more explicitly emphasising journeys.

We judge it a great privilege to be involved with a book with such a fine pedigree. The previous editor was Tim Locke (who has also written for hidden europe magazine). Tim looked after the book for ten years, overseeing annual revisions at a time when travel patterns were rapidly changing. Now we have reshaped the book for a new generation of rail travellers, many of them as likely to be carrying pension books as student ID cards.

In designing this wholly revamped book, we have paid a little homage to Thomas Cook by reintroducing little elements that featured in his earliest guides. We even have two new routes that include ferry crossings across the English Channel - a little whiff of travel nostalgia, though in truth we do find the rival Eurostar service quite magnificent. So of course we do have a route that features Eurostar too.

The book has a dedicated website at www.europebyrail.eu. If you like hidden europe and travel regularly by train then we think you might enjoy Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.