Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Look at the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable and you might think there are hardly any trains in eastern Europe. Indeed, the monthly timetable, which runs to over 500 pages, typically devotes less than a dozen pages to the eastern half of the continent. We make a friendly plea for visibility on behalf of rail travellers to Kazan, Samara and Volgograd.

article summary —

Two companion timetables have shaped the lives of many travellers. They are the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, for long just dubbed Cook’s Continental and published monthly since 1873, and the same company’s Overseas Timetable, the very last edition of which was published in November 2010. Nicky Gardner, who is co-editor of hidden europe, reflects on how the demise of the Overseas might be just the moment to breathe new life into the European Rail Timetable.

Isn’t it interesting the way our travel horizons change over time? The Thomas Cook Continental Timetable with its trademark persimmoncolour cover was a mainstay of my early explorations. Older and wiser travellers referred to it as Cook’s Continental and I learnt to do the same.

Cast back to 1980 and the Continental nicely mapped the extent of my world. I judged myself a pro because I had ventured beyond Table 763. The interesting bits of the world started at 764, which cut across the German Democratic Republic to Poland and beyond. I dreamt of one day travelling from Vladimir to Gorki, not because I knew anything about Gorki but merely because Table 862 sternly advised that “This route is not open to tourist traffic,” giving instant appeal to a Russian rail route that would otherwise have seemed quite inconsequential.

I learnt the schedules of the little steamer that plied the coast of Istria (Table 1419) and wondered whether anyone ever actually used the MS Dmitri Shostakovich which every three weeks set sail from Odessa for Libya (Table 1475). My favourite table in the Continental was 1480 which recorded the movements of vessels crossing the Sea of Japan.

Then there was a revolution. I had a hint that the world was changing.

This is just an excerpt. If you are a subscriber to hidden europe magazine, you can log in to read the full text online. Of course you can also read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 32.


Nicky Gardner is a travel writer and editor of hidden europe magazine. She is also a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. Nicky specialises in writing about off the beaten track communities in Europe.

This article was published in hidden europe 32.