Letter from Europe

Category: Journeys

About this blog

Our Letter from Europe is published about once a month and reports on issues of culture and travel.

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Issue no. 2023/2

Two decades of thinking about Europe

As we reflect on two decades of researching and writing about unsung communities across Europe, we realize that we had a lot to learn about how to travel. It took courage in the early days of hidden europe to escape the tyranny of too much planning. Over time, we slowed down and came to value journeys in their own right.

Issue no. 2022/4

Words Matter – hidden europe 66

Here's a look at the latest issue of hidden europe magazine, published earlier this month. We roam from the Azores to the Balkans, from Iceland to southern France. In between we celebrate 50 years of Interrail and reflect on the metrics to measure how sustainable tourism might be.

Issue no. 2022/1

The perfect night train

You’ll surely have seen that there’s a lot of hype around the return of night trains across Europe. The legitimacy of flying as a social norm was hardly questioned a decade ago. Nowadays we can no longer be oblivious to our carbon footprint. In this Letter from Europe we share what in our view constitutes the perfect night train.

Issue no. 2021/18

Watery diversions

Making time for creative journeys has been at the heart of our work with hidden europe. So in this issue of our Letter from Europe we highlight some longish ferry routes which even allow for some sightseeing. Here are some examples from this winter’s Mediterranean shipping schedules.

Issue no. 2021/14

Being amber

Being amber brings special privileges. The ‘reds’ are escorted by security personnel to a quarantine hotel. We ambers have it easy. We can make our own way to an agreed isolation address. And it's the theme of isolation that is very much present in the new issue of hidden europe magazine, which is published this week and is already available for sale.

Issue no. 2021/10

From Bilbao to Murmansk: A Tale of One Princess

Large ferries often go through multiple incarnations and we developed a sort of vicarious attachment to the Princess Anastasia, a vessel which we saw in Bilbao in 2008, and which is now based near Murmansk where she has become part of the infrastructure for tackling the COVID pandemic.

Issue no. 2021/8

The pleasure of the restaurant car

A chance reference on twitter this week to a Tajik restaurant car that runs all the way to Moscow has prompted us to recall some unlikely meals on trains. Join us as we recall such culinary delights as apéroplättli and svícková while riding the rails in Germany.

Issue no. 2020/32

The Gotthard revival

The new Treno Gottardo rail service starts in mid-December 2020. It offers the chance to travel from Basel to Switzerland's southernmost canton of Ticino via the classic Gotthard railway. Climb aboard a panorama carriage, sit back and enjoy the Alpine views.

Issue no. 2020/19

Issue 61 of hidden europe magazine

The experience of staying close to home during the Coronavirus pandemic prompted us to choose two key themes for this latest issue of hidden europe magazine: journeys and isolation. We kick off with a leisurely account of a wonderful Swiss rail journey and reflect on the future of night trains in Europe. We consider the loneliness of a remote village which for many years had only a single telephone and we touch on the isolation Marc Chagall must have felt as, one hundred years ago, he left his home town of Vitebsk for ever.

Issue no. 2020/16

A Four-Hour Train Journey for one Euro

Over the years we’ve tracked down many great-value international rail fares. We once wrote about the City Star tariff which offered extraordinarily cheap fares from Slovakia to Russia. But there is one cross-border fare in western Europe that even beats that. Have a guess where that might be.

Issue no. 2020/10

Voice of a Nation

Across hundreds of French railway stations, millions of travellers every day would in normal times encounter Simone Hérault, for hers is the disembodied voice which proclaims the imminent departure of the TGV to Aix-les-Bains or the regional train to Annecy.

Issue no. 2020/2

Visa changes: Russia and Belarus

As the United Kingdom tightens its entrance requirements, the progressive relaxation of visa regimes elsewhere in Europe is of course very welcome. In this Letter from Europe, we look at changes in visa regulations relating to Russia and Belarus.

Issue no. 2019/11

Scottish Island Flights

It will already be dark today long before Loganair's flight LM247 takes off from Stornoway around 17.30. Sunday's flight marks the last direct service from any of the Scottish islands to London. Those direct flights to London represented a much vaunted opportunity for the Outer Hebrides.

Issue no. 2019/10

Lyria Ruffles Swiss Feathers

The Franco-Swiss rail operator Lyria runs fast trains between Paris and a number of Swiss cities. It also offers the last remaining year-round direct train from Switzerland to the south of France - which is about to be axed. We take a look at Lyria's December 2019 timetable changes and review how the company's network has changed through time.

Issue no. 2019/8

Crossing the Water

There are three places in Europe where passenger trains are still regularly conveyed on ferries. One of them is the Scandlines ferry that carries the regular daytime Eurocity trains from Hamburg to Copenhagen. But the days of that rail-ferry link are numbered.

Issue no. 2019/2

On the Canal

John Hollingshead's account of his 1858 journey on a cargo boat from London to Birmingham is a fine narrative celebrating slow travel; its beauty resides in the manner it captures that sense of wonder at navigating so slowly through England.

Issue no. 2019/1

The City of Music

Even at this time of the year there is a lush richness in the citrus groves and chestnut woods which tumble down to the sea. We make our way through cypresses and limes towards the Villa Rufolo, the gardens of which inspired Richard Wagner.

Issue no. 2018/15

Letter from India

We were and still are Indian novices. The subcontinent pivots around a different Heaven from Europe. So we were a little nervous when we recently visited the country. Wouldn't you be? And we were rarely in the right place at the right time. Enjoy our regular travel 'letter' which most unusually comes not from Europe but from southern India.

Issue no. 2018/14

When Empires Crumbled

The dignified commemorations marking one hundred years since the end of the First World War masked the details of what actually happened in November 1918. The aftermath of the Great War was a messy business, with conflict continuing in some areas for some years after the armistice.

Issue no. 2018/10

Tracking through Berlin

This year marks the 180th anniversary of the opening of the first railway in Prussia. This was the line from Berlin to Potsdam. So we joined fellow Berliners on a 1950s-vintage railcar that went from Lichterfelde West to Gesundbrunnen station.

Issue no. 2018/6

Mind the ice

There was talk, as we all waited to leave the overnight ferry from Hoek van Holland in Harwich, as to whether there would be any trains. "It was like the blitz here last week," said one woman, who had evidently escaped the wild English weather by taking a weekend break in Rotterdam.

Issue no. 2017/26

Railways and World Heritage

Railways have long been a component of successful World Heritage applications. In 1986, Britain made its very first successful application to UNESCO and Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire was inscribed on UNESCO's List. Yet it was not before 1998 that the first railway secured, in its own right, UNESCO recognition: the Semmering Railway through the Alps.

Issue no. 2017/22

Everything but the Lorelei

The various hill areas of central Germany, stretching from Bohemia to the River Rhine and beyond, have helped define the landscapes of the region. And last week I took time out to explore some parts of this hill country, wandering from the Thüringer Wald down to the Odenwald and Spessart.

Issue no. 2017/19

Through Romanian eyes

The Romanian aristocrat, traveller and writer Dinicu Golescu deserves to be better known outside his home region, for he rates as one of the finest travel writers of the early 19th century. His 1826 book 'Account of My Travels' is an important piece in the canon of Balkan travel writing as an account of an early Romanian encounter with the west.

Issue no. 2017/17

A month without trains

A new month, and the sun shines. It's summer! And guess what? One European country has just closed down its entire rail network. For the whole month of June, not a single train will operate in Liechtenstein.

Issue no. 2017/15

The bus biz in Berlin

Berlin's central bus station opened in 1966. Tucked away on the edge of Berlin's trade-fair grounds it is one of the German capital's unsung spaces. Yet the no-frills terminus is still going strong and has seen an increase in services in recent years.

Issue no. 2017/1

Short hops by plane

Short hops by air over water are of course very common, generally relying on non-jet aircraft and providing lifeline air services to island communities around the coasts of Europe. A review of old airline timetables reveals that there used to be many more such services, including many very short hops across lakes or estuaries. We take a look at some of them.

Issue no. 2016/29

New European rail timetables for 2017

This weekend sees the launch of new railway timetables across Europe. This ritual takes place on the second weekend of December every year, with rail operators revamping service patterns and tweaking their schedules to reflect changing demand. We take a look at what the new schedules bring.

Issue no. 2016/12

Summer excursions by train

New summer train timetables kick in across Europe this month, ushering in many new rail links and interesting changes in rail services across the continent.

Issue no. 2016/1

The art of flying

Flying is rarely a bundle of fun. Even leaving aside the generally horrid nature of airports with their essential (but inevitably unpleasant) security checks, modern aviation practice makes few concessions to the poetics of the journey. The privilege of a window seat, however, allows the imagination to roam free as real topographies are shaped by half-remembered geography lessons. On a clear day by the window of a plane, anyone can be an explorer.

Issue no. 2015/35

New train services for 2016

New railway timetables kick in across much of Europe on Sunday 13 December - so here's a summary of interesting changes which we've noted in the new schedules. They include a useful new direct link from Moscow to Sofia - a journey which connects seven capital cities.

Issue no. 2015/24

Bohemian therapy

Eight times each day, even on Sundays, a train leaves the Czech town of Karlovy Vary for the 80-minute journey through the hills to Mariánské Lázne. Both communities are celebrated stops on the European spa circuit. They both flourished in Habsburg days and both are nowadays still well known by their erstwhile German names, respectively Karlsbad and Marienbad.

Issue no. 2015/23

Travel planning: choices... choices

The notion of pre-purchasing train tickets was generally unknown to Victorian travellers. It is only in the last generation that rail operators have started to use dynamic pricing, offering handsome discounts for travellers willing to re-purchase tickets for trains which the operator expects to be lightly loaded.

Issue no. 2015/20

150 years since Staplehurst

A Friday afternoon. The second Friday in June. As is today. The tidal train left Folkestone just after two in the afternoon. Charles Dickens was on board the tidal train on that Friday afternoon in 1865. It should have been a routine journey through the Garden of England.

Issue no. 2015/16

A Rhino called Ganda

We revisit the story of Ganda, the rhinoceros made famous in Dürer's woodcut, and look at it in the context of Renaissance royal menageries.

Issue no. 2015/15

From London to the Med without changing trains

If you visit St Pancras tomorrow morning, cast your eye over the departure boards. For at 07.19 tomorrow morning something remarkable will happen. The first ever scheduled passenger train will leave London for the shores of the Mediterranean: the direct Eurostar service to Marseille.

Issue no. 2015/10

Europe by rail: spring news

It is that time of year when rail companies across Europe tweak their schedules for the upcoming summer season. Here's an overview of some of the noteworthy changes for this spring.

Issue no. 2014/26

The Nansen trail

A recent visit to the Arctic port of Vardø, on an island off the eastern extremity of the Varanger Peninsula, prompts us to reflect on Fridtjof Nansen’s visit to the same place in 1893. Nansen arrived in Vardø on the Fram. It was the ship's last port-of-call in Norway on the great voyage of exploration that was to take Nansen closer to the North Pole than any earlier expedition.

Issue no. 2014/24

Tales from Titovka

Everyone stops at Titovka sooner or later. That's the way things are up here in the far north-west corner of Russia. The Titovka roadside café is on the highway that runs west from Murmansk towards the mining towns of Zapolyarny and Nikel.

Issue no. 2014/23

A new deal for Austrian lawyers

Europe is full of trains with oddly inappropriate names. At least the Alhambra goes to Granada. Not so the Wawel, which nowadays does not run to Kraków at all but only to Wroclaw. Some of the most bizarre train names are actually found in Austria. 'Austria reads' is just one of them.

Issue no. 2014/22

The Aurora fades

A couple of years ago we commented on the departure boards at the main railway station at Basel that they are "no longer bubbling with as much character as once they did." But Basel's SBB station in 2012 still had its moments, the best of which was the departure early each evening of the Aurora - the night train to Copenhagen. Now the Aurora looks set to fade from the timetables.

Issue no. 2014/13

Travelling via the Hook

Some journeys are full of ghosts. The 30-minute train ride from Rotterdam to Hoek van Holland (or vice versa) is in that vein. For a generation of English travellers arriving in Holland on the boat from Harwich, the journey by train along the north bank of the River Maas was a first glimpse of the continent.

Issue no. 2014/9

Ship Talk: From the Kattegat to the Crimea

Many travellers through Denmark this summer will be sorry to discover that the long-standing direct ferry from Kalundborg (on Sjælland) to Aarhus (on Jutland) has been axed. This is just one of many routes to disappear in the latest round of cuts to Europe's ferry networks. Meanwhile we have also been watching a Russian ferry operator who promotes a new Black Sea ferry route from Ukraine to Georgia.

Issue no. 2014/2

A polar travel centenary

The Arctic has been much on our minds of late. Today we mark the centenary of an epic moment in polar travel. One hundred years ago today, the Karluk was wrecked in the Chukchi Sea. The ship set off from Vancouver Island in June 1913 on a voyage to explore and map the Canadian Arctic.

Issue no. 2014/1

The Chelyuskin epic

As Russian families gather today to celebrate Christmas (which in Orthodox Europe falls later than in the Roman calendar), they will be inclined - like families everywhere in the world - to look back to Christmas tales from yesteryear. There is barely a Russian alive - of any age - who cannot recount a heroic tale or two about the bravery of the crew and passengers of the Chelyuskin, who 80 years ago endured an ice-bound Christmas in the Chukchi Sea.

Issue no. 2013/38

Farewell Madiba

Rolihlahla was born in Mvezo, moving when he was still a young lad to another village called Qunu which is further north, a little closer to the town of Mthatha. Until he went to school, Rolihlahla wore only a blanket. But on the day before school started, Rolihlahla's father took a pair of his own trousers, cut them off at the knee and insisted that his son wear them to school. Clad in his outsized trousers next day at school, Rolihlahla met his teacher, Miss Mdingane, who insisted that, now the boy was old enough to be educated, he should have a new name.

Issue no. 2013/31

From Berlin to Siberia

We have long judged the Sibirjak to be the most outlandish train in Europe, running as it does from the German capital to Saratov and beyond. There was always the thought that we could hop on that train here in Berlin and travel across the continent, through the Ural Mountains, and on into Asia. Yet in December this year, the Sibirjak will be axed.

Issue no. 2013/28

A Frisian journey

Dutch Friesland (or more properly Fryslan) is a world apart from the densely populated parts of Holland where cities rub shoulders with one another. Dutch planners ensure that a strip of open land divides Rotterdam from Den Haag, but one dyke and a windmill do not stack up to real countryside. Fryslan is different. There are no neat cities, no tired industrial estates. Instead there are just those black and white cows, fresh air, big skies and lots of open space.

Issue no. 2013/22

One journey, one Europe, one book

We sped from London to Brussels at lunchtime on Friday, swapping a pleasant English summer day for sultry Belgium — pausing along the way at Calais. There is always a little frisson of excitement on those rare Eurostars which stop at Calais. English travellers bound for Brussels peer out of the windows and are evidently surprised to find that Calais still exists. This is the tale of that journey. But it is also the story of one book that communicated a powerful vision of a networked, integrated Europe.

Issue no. 2013/20

Remembering Miss Jemima

Cast back 150 years, and Bastille Day came and went without the average Parisian taking much notice. It was not till 1880 that 14 July acquired the status of a national holiday. Thus when Miss Jemima Morrell wandered the streets of Paris on 14 July 1863, it was a perfectly ordinary Tuesday. Jemima and her party of fellow travellers from England dutifully followed the Parisian itinerary that had been prepared for them by Mr Thomas Cook.

Issue no. 2013/16

The North begins inside

"There is not much to be said for Reykjavik." That, at least, was the opinion of WH Auden when he arrived in Iceland in June 1936. A few weeks later, Irish poet Louis MacNeice joined Auden and the two men took to the hills of Iceland's wild interior on horseback

Issue no. 2013/14

136 minutes of theatre

The journey on Eurostar from London to Paris is pure theatre - a journey of many moods and changing landscapes. Within a minute or two of departure, London is eclipsed by darkness. Watch for tantalising shadows at Stratford, then a burst of sunshine as our train, picking up speed now, storms out of the London tunnels onto the Thames marshes.

Issue no. 2013/9

First plans for a Channel Tunnel rail service

Forty years ago this spring, civil servants in London and European rail planners were sketching out the first tentative ideas for just such a train service. The prevailing pieties in Britain about all things European were very different in those days. The UK had opted into the European project at the start of 1973, and the following October the Westminster Parliament approved a White Paper that gave the green light to the Channel Tunnel.

Issue no. 1013/7

Thomas Cook: March 1873

By the end of February 1873, Thomas Cook had encircled most of the northern hemisphere. Cook and his party of circumnavigators had sailed from Liverpool in September 1872. The travellers discovered iced water, Pullman cars and Sioux warriors in the United States. They found the crossing of the Pacific happily pacific and enjoyed "a perfect bewilderment" of landscape in Japan.

Issue no. 2013/6

Leaving the Tatras

I discovered yesterday that the traveller wanting to take a train out of Zakopane is hardly spoilt for choice. Early birds can opt for the 03.27 to Kraków. Then the next departure from the resort in the Tatra mountains of southern Poland is not till just after midday. Never keen on early starts, I opt for that lunchtime train, and duly arrive at the station about 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

Issue no. 2012/39

End of the line for the peace train

Europe's railway geography was reshaped last night. New timetables kicked in, bringing a host of novel travel options. Yet it is easy for rail operators to shout about new routes. These are the good news stories that everyone wants to hear. But what of the trains that are being axed, and the lines where trains are being shunted into sidings and left to rust for ever?

Issue no. 2012/34

A place for newly-weds

So we travelled west, just as we promised. We saw white horses and chalk downland, slipping through geology to reach a land of gorgeous place names. We sped by Huish Episcopi, skirted Burrow Mump and Dawlish Warren eventually to reach the Tamar. Brunel's mighty bridge escorted us to another land. 'Kernow a'gas dynergh' reads the sign on the railway platform at Saltash. 'Welcome to Cornwall'.

Issue no. 2012/31

A time for following

Sometimes it is good to be led. Paul has the map. I follow. Three of us are walking: Greg, Paul and I. Paul leads us to the shores of the lake. It is a good spot to retreat from the dark-scud clouds that crowd the October skies. There is a sweet dampness in the air, the enveloping melancholy of autumn in the forest. In the skies above, we see the patterned wing-beat of geese dancing to the obliquity of the ecliptic.

Issue no. 2012/26

A dozen nautical miles

Only once past Foreland Point does Devon reveal her secrets. From Foreland it is a dozen nautical miles of easy cruising along the coast to Ilfracombe. But there are choices. Due west of Foreland Point lies nothing but open ocean until the rocky shores of Newfoundland. Our skipper takes the tame option and hugs the English coast, Devon unfolding along the way. Shales and sandstones, reminders of an ancient desert, a land rent asunder by the oceans and crumpled like a concertina.

Issue no. 2012/23

Travelling on a whim

When was the last time you just wandered? Not merely through your home community, but more widely? Just travelling without fixed intent from region to region, perhaps even across frontiers to foreign lands. Last week we explored a little of the German-Polish Baltic region. Perhaps we shall return there this week. And perhaps not. The point is not to plan, but to savour the serendipity of chance. To wander for its own sake.

Issue no. 2012/17

Reshaping mental maps

This evening, a train will speed from Córdoba to Valencia in just a shade over three hours, marking the inauguration of another link in Spain's growing high-speed rail network. True, the new stretch of line in this case is very modest, but it is enough to facilitate a new fast service linking the Guadalquivir Valley in Andalucía with the Gulf of Valencia. And it will help reshape the mental maps of citizens of both the Spanish Levante and Andalucía.

Issue no. 2012/10

The harsh lands

After the lushness of Puglia, the fierce landscapes of Basilicata came as a firm reminder that southern Italy is not all peaches and almonds. In Puglia we had enjoyed orecchiette with broccoli and been seduced by vincotto di fichi. We had heard the chirring of crickets, picked fresh lemons, paddled in the Adriatic and tasted grilled lamb. Then last Saturday morning we moved on to Basilicata.

Issue no. 2012/9

Across the Channel

The stretch of coast north from Boulogne (in the direction of Calais) is a good place to reflect on England. We took a local bus along the coastal road last month, and it made for a fine ride on a perfectly clear, crisp winter day. Beach communities like Wimereux and Wissant were once popular holiday spots, much favoured by English visitors.

Issue no. 2012/8

Charlottenburg to Cádiz

There is something rather satisfying about being up and about earlyish on a Sunday morning. Streets that would on working days be busy are happily empty. So I hopped on a train just after eight and rode west out of Berlin. This is familiar terrain. Charlottenburg looks, as ever, faded but interesting. We sweep out of the city, passing the Olympic Stadium, glimpses here and there of empty parks.

Issue no. 2012/5

West to Reading

The fast trains from London to Reading take a mere twenty-four minutes for the journey. And First Great Western (FGW), successor to Brunel's celebrated Great Western Railway, happily still name some of their trains. Scanning the current FGW timetable for departures from Paddington, we opt for the Cornish Riviera for the ride to Reading.

Issue no. 2012/4

Diverted via Paris

Remember the ash cloud in 2010? It had a silver lining in making stranded travellers think creatively about the journeys they wanted or needed to make. And similarly with the seasonal doses of wintry weather that play havoc with rail schedules across the continent. When we left London mid-morning yesterday, we thought we were pretty sure to arrive in Berlin by late evening. Little did we imagine that our roundabout journey would lead us to Paris.

Issue no. 2011/26

Travelling through the Harz Mountains

The Harz Mountains barely rise to more than one thousand metres, but seen from the flatlands to the north they appear mightily impressive: great, forested humpbacks that preside over the plains. The highest point is the Brocken, at 1,141 metres the loftiest elevation anywhere in northern Germany.

Issue no. 2011/20

Train to Narva

Platform Four in Tallinn station: the train to Narva rests in the sunshine. An odd selection of shopping bags, magazines and items of clothing scattered on plastic seats are evidence of people having made a claim on a particular space on the train. One person has left an umbrella, another a melon and a third seat is occupied by a plastic chimpanzee. Their respective owners stand on the platform until it is evident that the train is about to depart.

Issue no. 2011/19

Train services of yesteryear

There is much talk today about how we live in a new age of the train, and that many journeys around Europe are now much more sensibly undertaken by rail rather than air. Only too true, but such rhetoric does imply that rail travel in Europe was utterly dreadful for an earlier generation of travellers. We have been taking a look at European rail travel 40 years ago.

Issue no. 2011/11

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers

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. The result is 'Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers' which was published last month.

Issue no. 2011/10

Travels through Macedonia

We journeyed through Macedonia last week. We stayed at the country's only World Heritage Site at Ohrid and then hugged the Albanian border as we travelled north through Debar to Tetovo. This is territory that has long fascinated travel writers and our journey picked up elements of itineraries followed by Edith Durham and Rebecca West.

Issue no. 2011/8

The Centovalli Railway

Domodossola has sleek trains aplenty. There are great expresses that purr north through the Simplon Tunnel into Switzerland or slide south towards Milan, hugging the west side of Lago Maggiore along the way. But lovers of great scenery and unusual trains head down into the concrete zone, there in the subterranean depths of Domodossola railway station to board the little train that rattles east across the valley and climbs into the hills beyond.

Issue no. 2011/4

Arabia and the European Imagination

Travel and myth-making naturally go hand in hand. Arabia is a product of the European imagination. Romanticised views of the desert and rumours of ancient cities lost in great seas of sand conspire to create picture-book images of an Arabia that hardly match reality.

Issue no. 2010/29

Border markers

We sensed we were crossing into another world as the Moscow-bound train rumbled over the long bridge that spans the River Bug. The reed beds are full of wildfowl which are not troubled by the frequent trains that rattle overhead. This is the border wilderness that divides Poland from Belarus. It marks one of Europe's great divides: the Curzon Line.

Issue no. 2010/28

The road less taken

Only the British can really understand the appeal of the perfect B road. It is a road that may have pretensions, hoping one day to be upgraded to A class status. And then there are B roads that have come down in the world. Take for example the B1043 south of Peterborough through the village of Stilton (which really does have a connection with cheese).

Issue no. 2010/27

By train through Albania

The railway platform at Tirana was as full as it ever gets. That meant all of half a dozen people waiting for the dawn train to Pogradec, among them an English gricer and a Polish twitcher. The latter had travelled across Europe to catch a glimpse of rare birds and was bound for Lake Ohrid.

Issue no. 2010/24

Fourth class over the border

Chernivtsi's distinctive green-domed railway station gives a hint of the city it serves. It is a stylish station, one that well befits what is a gem among Ukrainian cities. Of course, for many travellers Chernivtsi is merely a place to change trains. There are connections far and wide. But the most interesting train of the day from Chernivtsi is the morning train to Moldova.

Issue no. 2010/20

Macedonian variety

It takes less than four hours to cross Macedonia by train. It is just 250 km from the border with Serbia at Tabanovce to the Greek frontier at Gevgelija. Of course Macedonia deserves more than merely four hours, but that short train journey affords a few insights into one of Europe's least known countries.

Issue no. 2010/17

Slow England

Cut off the main highway to Norwich, dive into the countryside through meadows full of deep green grass and you will reach Quidenham - a cluster of cottages and uneven lanes that were never meant for fast cars. Across England there are a thousand Quidenhams, each one a byway in the maze of English history.

Issue no. 2010/15

Glimpses from the train

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.

Issue no. 2010/6

The Buchenhorst brigade

You have surely never heard of Buchenhorst. Nor had we until yesterday. It is a tiny community deep in the forests of western Pomerania. And it was here that our train ground to a halt en route to the Baltic port of Stralsund yesterday.

Issue no. 2009/39

A trio of cat stories

Catamarans are in the news. Spanish operator Transcoma this week launches its new fast catamaran service between Gibraltar and the Spanish port of Algeciras and in the English Channel the Euroferries saga continues.

Issue no. 2009/38

Train service changes for 2010

The Balkan region gets a new rail service tomorrow, with the launch of a once daily direct train between Belgrade and Sarajevo. It is a mark of how much the mood in the region has improved over recent years that routes severed during the nineties are now being restored.

Issue no. 2009/34

The new age of the train

The French TGV train is nothing new, but the afternoon service from Strasbourg to Paris last Thursday happened to feature the very engines that two years ago broke the world rail speed record. Back in April 2007, the specially modified train reached a remarkable 574 kilometres per hour west of the Meuse river viaduct. We swept along the same stretch of line at a much more sedate 315 kilometres per hour.

Issue no. 2009/33

Orbiting Berlin

We took a day out on Friday to orbit Berlin. In truth we have never really been fans of motorway driving, but a gorgeous frosty autumn morning with clear skies tempted us out of suburban Berlin onto the motorway that encircles the city. At exactly 200 kilometres, the Berliner Ring is the longest orbital motorway in Europe, beating even London's infamous M25 to the record.

Issue no. 2009/29

Ferry updates

September will not be remembered as an easy month for ferry operators in the waters around the British Isles. With the end of the peak summer season, many ferry operators look to their books and ponder how (or even whether) they can survive the leaner winter season ahead. Two car ferry routes in northwest Ireland are struggling with financial uncertainty.

Issue no. 2009/18

Where to buy rail tickets for travel in Europe

hidden europe reviews options for purchasing rail tickets for travelling in Europe. We cast around on the Internet, and made a host of phone calls, just to compare how much agents in the UK and USA would charge for those five itineraries. And for comparison we checked out the cheapest price then available on the Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) website for the same five trips. The results make for a frightening read.

Issue no. 2009/15

By ferry to Russia

The whispers from Moscow last week that Russia will sanction visa-free travel to the country for visitors arriving and leaving on ferries is good news indeed. Cruise ship passengers have long benefitted from just such a dispensation, but only if they take part in a fully escorted tour. Hence the crowds of day trippers that are herded around St Petersburg during the cruise season.

Issue no. 2009/14

Thriving locally in a global economy

Some modern travellers jet from one end of Europe to the other, often only to find on arrival at their chosen destination that the place seems uncannily like home. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss bemoaned the fact that everywhere was somehow becoming ever more similar.

Issue no. 2009/13

Slow train to Rheinsberg (Germany)

On a beautiful spring day, the forty minute train journey from Löwenberg to Rheinsberg has to be one of the prettiest on the planet. And it was a beautiful spring day. We trundled through birch woods bursting with spring flowers, the morning sunlight sparkled on lakes and we saw lots of deer, kestrels, a buzzard and a fox who turned and watched our small train cross his territory.

Issue no. 2009/9

Changing trains in Copenhagen

The building housing the Nimb Hotel in Copenhagen is deliciously exotic - a Taj Mahal style confection that incorporates Chinese and Moorish elements. It celebrates its centenary this year, having opened its doors in 1909 as Carstensen's Bazaar. In those days it housed a concert hall, an indoor market and for some years boasted the only Tivoli restaurant serving hot food.

Issue no. 2009/8

Slow travel

The Slow Food movement is well established, and there are now slow cities. But what about slow travel? Robert Louis Stevenson and Freya Stark both travelled with donkeys. They were attentive to every turn of the road on their journeys through France and Arabia respectively. But us? We pack ourselves like sardines into fragile aluminium tubes and speed through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour. Come now! That is not real travel.

Issue no. 2009/1

Channel crossings

Calais' modern port is a model of efficiency. We travelled with P&O Ferries across the Dover Strait, enjoying the considerable comforts on board the Pride of Burgundy. Channel crossing by boat can be a great pleasure.

Issue no. 2008/36

When the best laid plans don't quite work out

This week saw hidden europe hitchhiking through rural Hungary as we tried to mitigate the effects of a national train strike in Hungary (now into its seventh day as we write). Pity the poor passengers who left Bucharest last Saturday evening on the through train to Venice. Their sleeping cars rolled into Budapest Keleti station last Sunday afternoon.

Issue no. 2008/28

A matter of time - Belgrade

hidden europe reports on European elections and a referendum in Jersey. We also visit Belgrade and think about the city's illustrious history - the times when the Orient Express stopped in Belgrade.

Issue no. 2008/16

Across Iceland's interior

Iceland's central highlands are no cakewalk. At least that's the way Andrew Evans puts it in the Bradt Guide to the country. "Iceland's interior feels more a cross between the Gobi desert and Antarctica," writes Andrew. It is that time of year when the highlands, known as Hálendið in Iceland, begin to open up for the season.

Issue no. 2008/13

Western Europe by train

Mid-morning saw hidden europe on the train that trundled west from Breckland across to the Fens. When the late eighteenth-century author William Gilpin travelled through Norfolk and Suffolk, he described Breckland as "an absolute desert" - this sandy heathland was doubtless the very antithesis of the idealised picturesque landscapes of which Gilpin was so fond.

Issue no. 2008/12

Seaplanes make a comeback

Loch Lomond Seaplanes last week launched a new seaplane service from Glasgow to Tobermory on the Hebridean island of Mull. Predictable media frenzy of course, with hyped accounts in English newspapers of how islanders can now eat 'seaweed muesli' at home for breakfast and be in Glasgow in time for mid-morning coffee.

Issue no. 2008/3

Across Siberia by slow train

Some of our most productive moments are while we are travelling. And Botton is surely right. A slow train that meanders around forests and lakes of Pomerania, stopping off at tiny wayside halts every few minutes, breeds a quite different set of musings from a sleek express that slices through the countryside at two hundred kilometres an hour. Somehow creativity, for us at least, is spurred by the slow train.

Issue no. 2007/26

Railway schedules: a look ahead

It is years since the blue and white sleeping cars of Russian Railways (RZD) have been seen in the Netherlands, Switzerland or Bavaria but all three look set to feature on a daily basis in the RZD schedules for 2008. A major revamping of east-west night train services will create a raft of new journey options.

Issue no. 2007/15

Paris and the Orient Express

At five o'clock tomorrow afternoon, the concourse at Paris Gare de L'Est will surely be as crowded as ever it is on a busy Friday. Passengers will rush through the magnificent railway station booking hall, scarcely noticing the amazing painting that hangs here: a view of the Gare de L'Est as soldiers were leaving for war in 1914. The 5.17 pm train will probably leave on time; it usually does.

Issue no. 2007/13

Pioneer railways

Yesterday saw hidden europe in Dresden, where we joined the Sunday exodus to the city's main public park. Just an easy stroll east of the city centre, the old Volkspark (People's Park) is a classic of its kind - a place for simple pleasures, with a handsome Baroque palace, ample lakes, leafy glades, a small zoo and a miniature railway.

Issue no. 2007/4

Passports please!

There is an old Russian proverb that suggests that a man consists of a body, a soul and a passport. But passports are not such an age-old institution as the proverb might imply. A hundred years ago, travellers might wander hither and thither across many parts of Europe without any formal documentation. Where a traveller did have a passport in those days, it was often just a single sheet of paper.

Issue no. 2007/1

"a time of gifts"

With the expansion of the eurozone in mind, we have been taking a close look at the map of Europe that features on the reverse side of all euro banknotes. Curious, is it not, that the Faroe Islands are depicted on the map (even though they are not part of the EU) while Malta is not? The Isle of Man is shown, but not the Isle of Wight. This cartographic curiosity is unravelled in the January 2007 issue of hidden europe.

Issue no. 2006/29

Night sleepers

Enthusiasts for European train travel, we have noticed, sometimes get a little edgy this time of year. It is that season when train timetables, which have served us well - or sometimes less than perfectly - for almost twelve months are suddenly discarded. It can be a disconcerting moment, that Saturday in December when trains run to the old schedules for the very last time.

Issue no. 2006/24

The road to Petsamo

Early European travel was hugely driven by Christian virtue. Those of the truly devout who had the resources would try to visit Rome, Jerusalem or Santiago de Compostela. The fifteenth century English mystic, Margery Kempe, managed all three, and then topped off the grand trio of shrines by travelling to Bad Wilsnack near Berlin, which was then one of the premier pilgrimage sites in northern Europe.

Issue no. 2006/17

By bus to Moldova

hidden europe has been in the North Frisian islands this past week. The island of Gröde is one of ten communities known collectively as the Halligen, tiny islands that lie off the west coast of the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein. This week the sea lavender is in bloom, great foamy sprays of blue that line the beaches just above the high water mark.

Issue no. 2005/23

Estonian ice routes - Icarus Reincarnate

A full week of cold weather over much of northern Europe has brightened the winter prospects for Scotland's ski resorts and for inhabitants of some of Estonia's offshore islands. Where winters are cold enough - by no means every year – some of Estonia's islands secure a temporary road link to the mainland through use of an ice road.

Issue no. 2005/18

The friendship express - black vultures in Thrace - search hidden europe

All eyes are on Turkey this afternoon as its citizens, from the Sea of Marmara to the hills of eastern Anatolia, react to the news from Luxembourg that Turkey and the EU are at least going to start discussions about the possibility of Turkey joining the Union at some distant point in the future. Whatever the outcome of the politicians' discussions, even the mere prospect of closer links with the EU has done much to improve matters for travellers.

Issue no. 2005/8

The train to Siberia - a Kraków curiosity

Walk the royal road south from Kraków's magnificent central square and you cannot miss the great hill of Wawel with its palace and cathedral overlooking the Wisla river. Walk up to the cathedral in the quiet of night, or at dawn on a summer morning, and chances are that you may find one or two people sitting in silent meditation that may last some hours.

Issue no. 2005/4

Europe's best value flight - island hopping in the Faroes - Georgian visas

In these days of discount airlines, we all expect to travel for next to nothing, except of course when we are flying to some far flung remote spot where there is absolutely no competition. So when hidden europe checked out domestic flights in the Faroe Islands last week, we expected to have to pay the earth to travel on the once a week flight from Froðba on the island of Suðeroy, at the south of the archipelago, to Hattarvík on Fugloy, the remotest island in the Faroes.

Issue no. 2005/3

Visa free travel to Ukraine this summer for EU and Swiss citizens

One of the less remarked downsides of Poland entering the European Union last year was that the Poland-Ukraine border became significantly more difficult to cross for local residents — on both sides of the border. The relatively free movement of locals across the Poland-Ukraine frontier was thwarted by EU demands that the outer edge of the EU be made much more secure.