hidden europe

Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

The hill community of Zakopane, in the shadow of the Tatra Mountains, hardly seems the sort of spot for revolution. But 100 years ago it was a self-styled independent republic (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

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 ...
View from one of the dunes towards the forested area of the Curonian Spit with the Baltic in the distance (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

For much of its length, the Curonian Spit is about two to three kilometres wide; at points it narrows to just a few hundred metres. The sea is never far away. There is a real sense of being on the very edge of Europe. Yet, for all its remoteness, ...
The former house of the Iranian consul (called Firouza) in Borjomi, Georgia (photo © Mikhail Markovskiy / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

The Iranian consul's residence and the Romanov's Likani Palace are just two of many extraordinary buildings which attest to the one-time importance of Borjomi, a Georgian spa town best known for its mineral water. It's a town with a complex history ...
The Lavaux vineyards on the shore of Lake Geneva, viewed from the lakeside promenade at Cully (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Travelling east on the steamer from Ouchy , we are struck by how vines dominate the shoreline of Lake Geneva. At Cully we hop ashore to explore this small town in Switzerland's Lavaux region. It is the area from which Switzerland's acclaimed ...
A 1950s-era West German railcar at Lichterfelde West station. This heritage railcar makes special journeys in the Berlin region, often traversing railway lines which are rarely used by passenger trains (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

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 ...
The birthplace of Karl Marx in Trier, Germany, which houses a museum on the life of the German philosopher (photo © Matyas Rehak / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Marx's birth. He was born in the town of Trier in the Moselle Valley, a place which these days seems so sedate as to be entirely devoid of revolutionary potential. But Marx had sensitive political antennae and, ...
An exotic spot in western Scotland: the gardens at Crarae (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

In Victorian Scotland, the public took great interest in technology, and so the detonations at the quarry of Crarae on the west shore of Loch Fyne became something of an attraction. The regular steamer from the Clyde to Inveraray would pause at ...
Sicily seen from the window of the slow train, with Mount Etna in the background (photo © Serjio74 / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

The art of travel writing is not about giving an overview of a country in a recitation of bland generalities. It's about capturing the essence of a place through attention to detail. Tim Parks' book Italian Ways does this ...
image © Gorodok495 / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

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 ...
photo © Joshua Wanyama / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

Winter skating on the River Doubs, which marks the frontier between France and Switzerland, is a common seasonal pastime in the Jura region. As Switzerland and France are both party to the Schengen Agreement, this is a classic "soft" border, one ...
Sinn Féin victory parade, probably after the East Clare by elections of July 1917. Countess Markievicz is shown prominently, wearing a white coat (photo: from the Keogh Photographic Collection, National Library of Ireland on The Commons).
Letter from Europe

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of the first woman ever elected to the British House of Commons. Constance Georgine Gore-Booth was born into an Anglo-Irish family in 1868. Her stand on rights for women is just one dimension of the wider ...
Statue of Vladimir the Great on Borovitskaya Square in Moscow near the Kremlin (photo © Vladimir Zhuravlev / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

In Russia, as more widely, the question of who is honoured in statues and memorials is deeply political. So too is the question of when the first memorial is erected and how long it remains. Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the feared Soviet ...
Old cemetery on Barra's west coast (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Islands breed patience – among both the living and the dead. Especially in mid-winter in Barra, when the storms can be relentless. For us, however, there is a rare pleasure in being at the mercy of the elements. One feels connected with nature in a ...
The Swiss village of Samnaun is a duty-free haven (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

We had assumed that the practice of diligently recording and publishing the name of visitors had long since died out until last summer we visited Samnaun. This really is one of Europe's most oddball communities. It is tucked away in the hills on ...