Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2006/27 posted by hidden europe on

Hidden europe has been on the road - or more correctly 'on the rails' - this past week meandering through Europe on a journey that has seen us sleeping on a Russian night train, speeding through the Channel Tunnel on Eurostar, eating pierogi in Poland and croissants in France. There is something inescapably dramatic about a long train journey, especially if, as we contrived to do, one takes slow trains where at all possible.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

hidden europe 11 is published on 3 November 2006. The full table of contents is already available on our website. And copies can be purchased via our online shop.

In the summer, we experimented for a while with offering a mini-subscription, a chance to catch the flavour of hidden europe with just three issues. Many are the would-be readers who have asked if we might reintroduce that option, so, as of today, the mini-subscription features again as one of the offerings in our online shop. Get the November issue of hidden europe, plus the two following issues for just 20 EUR (or 14 GBP). Various new back issue offers are also available, along of course with the regular one-year sub at 39 EUR (or 27 GBP). For prices for addresses outside Europe see our order information page.

by train to London

hidden europe has been on the road - or more correctly 'on the rails' - this past week meandering through Europe on a journey that has seen us sleeping on a Russian night train, speeding through the Channel Tunnel on Eurostar, eating pierogi in Poland and croissants in France. There is something inescapably dramatic about a long train journey, especially if, as we contrived to do, one takes slow trains where at all possible. Sadly no-one has yet thought of offering a slow train through the Channel Tunnel, so there we were forced to resort to the Eurostar express, which transports its passengers with uncomfortable haste from France to England, only slowing to a more sedate pace when it reaches London's southern suburbs. Bromley at 150 km per hour may have no evident charms, but Brixton at 15 km per hour was an urban feast with glimpses of Jamaican cafés and fabulous exotic fruits in a market down below the tracks.

Our train snaked through Clapham, screeched round tight curves at Battersea, where the hulk of the abandoned power station stood gaunt against a sky dark with clouds. And then we paused by signals at Vauxhall - an unkempt spot where traffic swirls round a giant intersection traversed by railway viaducts. It happens that Vauxhall features in the November hidden europe, and for those wanting a sneak preview of the article, we have even made it available online for a while. Follow this link and click on London: Vauxhall Pleasures.

the Selwyn swastika

Even well travelled spots manage to come up with the odd surprise, something that has never crept into any guidebook or been remarked upon in the media. Wandering through Cambridge at the weekend we left the crowds queuing to visit King's College Chapel, and walked across the river to Selwyn College, a wonderful feast of Victorian Tudor-Gothic architecture, where we found an intriguing swastika on the walkway that bridges the gap between the college library and the main building. Odd, we pondered, that in an academic establishment noted for its liberal and generous ways, a swastika should feature as so obvious an embellishment.

But the Selwyn swastika turns out to pre-date the Nazis' appropriation of the swastika motif. In this case, it was the moniker of the Tokugawa family in Japan who funded that part of the Selwyn college buildings. Evidently the Marquis Tokugawa was so impressed with Selwyn hospitality when he visited Cambridge in the early nineteen twenties, that he agreed to fund a connecting bridge to the library (that the fellows and scholars might not have to get wet along the way). The College, touched by this Japanese generosity, decorated the structure with the Tokugawa cognizance.

In the November issue of hidden europe, we track down many other examples of innocent swastikas across Europe - from Amiens Cathedral to the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen. That aside, we feature Abkhazia, Lithuania and Bilbao, celebrate the art of slow travel and reveal some of our favourite travel writers - essayists who, like us, enjoy nothing more than delicately unpicking the curiosities of peoples and places that make our continent so endlessly fascinating.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

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.