Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2010/15 posted by hidden europe on

Are not the finest parts of many long train journeys those fleeting glimpses of a city or a country that you get just prior to arrival at your destination? There is a superb moment on the train journey through Slovakia towards Budapest, a view dominated by the huge basilica at Esztergom.

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Dear fellow travellers

Are not the finest parts of many long train journeys those fleeting glimpses of a city or a country that you get just prior to arrival at your destination?

There is a superb moment on the train journey through Slovakia towards Budapest. The Danube is frustratingly invisible on the journey east from Bratislava. Lots of watery meadows, to be sure, but not a hint of the Danube itself until after the train has stopped for the last time in Slovakia (at Sturovo). Then comes the moment when the landscape opens out. Suddenly, to the right, there is a magnificent vista across the Danube to Hungary, with the skyline on the far bank of the Danube dominated by the huge basilica at Esztergom. You know you are about to enter Hungary, and suddenly the country seems to offer an invitation to cross its border.

It has been a while since we took the night train from Paris to Madrid, but we recall a marvellous stretch an hour before arriving in the Spanish capital on a December morning. There were sublime views of both historic Avila in soft wintry sunshine and later equally beguiling glimpses of the palace at El Escorial. Whether the train still takes that same circuitous route into Madrid through Avila and El Escorial we do not know, but it really should. It made for a wonderful introduction to Spain as we awoke after a good night's sleep on the train from Paris.

Travelling into Edinburgh from the north is something to savour, with trains from Fife crossing the Forth Rail Bridge to reach the Scottish capital. The run into London Victoria station has a potentially memorable moment too when the train crosses Grosvenor Bridge over the Thames. Count it as a blessing if the view is not obscured by other trains trundling into London on tracks on either side. For travellers in luck, there are great views of London's river that take in the Royal Chelsea Hospital in one direction and Battersea Power Station in the other.

There is one such moment on Eurostar as the train speeds into London from the Channel Tunnel. Eurostar sweeps over the Medway Viaduct. No other bridge in the world takes high speed trains over as great a span. But even the sharpest engineering here is eclipsed by the view, particularly up the Medway valley (so to the left of the London bound train). A flotilla of little boats is moored in the Medway, either bobbing on the water or stranded on the mudflats according to the state of the tide.

From the railway viaduct, there are remarkable views south across Wouldham Marshes. Travellers with an eye for details can pick out chalk pits, old osier beds, oast houses (long since converted into executive homes) and a handsomely restored Tudor manor house. This fleeting vista of a Kentish valley gains meaning through its brevity - a glimpse into another world, a glimpse into another time. Eurostar speeds on, but close your eyes and imagine you are still in Wouldham a hundred years ago. In those days a little ferry crossed the Medway, linking Wouldham with the village of Halling on the west bank of the river. Could anyone in those times ever have imagined that folk in these Medway villages in 2010 would look north to see trains from France hurtling above their valley at tremendous speeds?

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.