Good words for more sensible travel
Welcome to this new section of our website. Expect notes and news relating to travel, culture, society and politics in and around Europe. We don't call it a blog. And why not? Well, let's face it, while there are a lot of good blogs around, too many blogs are poorly researched, badly written, ill-tempered and just a little bit too opinionated. We want to do something softer and gentler. Hard news, to be sure, but presented with that same quiet authority and perceptive insight that readers of hidden europe magazine have come to expect.
The European winter that is now — all too belatedly — being eclipsed by spring has seemed painfully long. Yet curiously, it has not been exceptionally cold. Across much of Europe, March was chilly by the standards of the average March, but it broke very few records for absolute minima. And a biting north-east wind made some areas feel much colder than the thermometer suggested.
Rarely has the Vatican been so much in the spotlight as over the last week or two. The dog days of a papacy have never in recent times been quite so clearly defined as they were in February 2013. Benedict’s announcement on 12 February ushered in 16 days of preparations for that moment last Thursday evening when the Pope stepped back from office. Important ecclesiastic business was immediately shelved. We find it interesting what business was still transacted in the second half of February.
Summer in Europe might not seem a natural ally for winter in Arabia. But Freya Stark’s 'A Winter in Arabia' is a book for all seasons and all continents. It recalls Freya Stark’s second journey through the Hadhramaut region of southern Arabia (nowadays part of Yemen). Freya Stark’s first Arabian foray, in the winter of 1934–1935, ended with measles and an ignominious rescue by the Royal Air Force. The publicity in Europe which attended that rescue helped establish Freya Stark’s reputation as an intrepid explorer.
Many years ago, I spent a long hot summer in and around a sleepy ksar on the edge of the Sahara. I read many books that summer, but it was 'Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam' that tugged and tugged again, urging me to return to its pages. That book was my introduction to Isabelle Eberhardt, a writer who — perhaps more than any other — has influenced my life and my thinking. This summer, so far from the desert and in a country where the most charming of all oases is my garden, I turned to Sharon Bangert’s English translation of 'Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam'. It appears under the Peter Owen imprint in a pocket-sized paperback.
The travel narratives of yesteryear line our shelves, and it was really no more than chance that last week we looked again at Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey. Some might venture that in shelving it in the travel section of our modest library we have erred. It is more a work of sentimental fiction than a travelogue sensu stricto. 244 years after its initial publication, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy is still a fine read.
“InterRail isn’t the same as in the early days,” came the cry after our 40th-birthday bouquet in honour of InterRail published in hidden europe 37. Several correspondents have contacted us with stories of how InterRail and Eurail have lost their gloss. Many hold against the scheme that there are too many supplements nowadays — unlike forty years ago, when you could just hop on any train and travel where you wanted. But is this true? It's time to put the record straight.
Berlin’s much vaunted new airport, already much delayed, was due eventually to open on 3 June. But the announcement this week that the airport (dubbed BER in IATA-speak) will not now open until later in 2012 threatens to pay havoc with summer travel plans. The whole airport saga has dragged on for years with contractors squabbling and an evident lack of clear leadership. But after delays last year, the 3 June opening date seemed very firm and few Berliners had any inkling that there would now be further problems.
Devotees of unusual ferry routes will find a few gems tucked away in Brittany Ferries’ winter schedules. From next week until the end of March 2012, there will be a seasonal Plymouth to St Malo service. The service kicks off next Monday with a morning sailing at 11.30 from St Malo. The passage time is eight hours.
New rail timetables for the former Soviet Union come into effect later this month. There remains some uncertainty about some services, but for travellers heading east, here are a few thoughts on what to expect: the return of the Berlin to Kaliningrad night train, a new link from Riga to Minsk, a direct daily train from Berlin to Ukraine and more.
It is more than forty years since the Ibáñez family gave Fontana Rosa to the town of Menton. Ibáñez was born in Valencia, and many of his novels are set in the Valencia region. He spent the final six years of his life in Menton, the most Italianate of the French Riviera towns, and during those last years his creative energy took a different turn. He dabbled in travel writing.