hidden europe

Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

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 ...
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 ...
The Semmering Railway (Austria) is listed on UNESCO's World Heritage list. It traverses the Austrian Alps to link Vienna with Graz and Klagenfurt (photo © Fritz Hiersche / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

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 station at Schaanwald is on the Feldkirch to Buchs railway line that cuts through Liechtenstein (© hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

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 ...
The velvety landscapes of the Cotswolds in summer have long been a magnet for poets and writers (photo © Davidmartyn / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Edward Thomas' achievements as a poet and essayist were only fully recognised posthumously. For many, it is his poem about Adlestrop which sticks in the mind. But there's more to Thomas than that poem - indeed he was a very accomplished nature ...
Lenin statue in Moscow (photo © Mjunsworth / dreamstime.com)
Letter from Europe

News of the revolution in Russia reached Switzerland in March 1917, and many politically active Russian émigrés immediately decided to return home. Led by Lenin, the revolutionaries boarded a sealed carriage and travelled by train across ...
The extension of the Midland Railway to St Pancras necessitated the demolishion of Agar Town. At the same time St Pancras churchyard was reduced in size. Many of the tombstones which were removed were gathered together around the oak tree pictured above (photo © David Edgar licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).
Letter from Europe

It is 150 years since the Midland Railway, which in 1866 was extending its tracks south into St Pancras, demolished a poor, working-class community which inconveniently straddled the company's proposed route to its grand new London terminus. Agar ...
New rail timetables from December 2016 will improve journey times from Milan to Zürich, Verona and Venice. Pictured here is Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (photo © Mrusty / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Private Italian operator NTV Italo offers a new weekend service from Milan to Rimini this summer (photo © Eqroy8 / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

New summer train timetables kick in across Europe this month, ushering in many new rail links and interesting changes in rail services across the ...
On three weekends in February 2016, the port of Oban on the west coast of Scotland will have a direct overnight sleeper train to and from London (photo © Georgesixth / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Over the next three weekends, the overnight sleeper from London which would normally run to Fort William will instead run to Oban — travelling out Friday night from London and returning from Oban on Sunday night. It is a rare experiment, but let's ...
Letter from Europe

There's a touch of the wild west about Ferizaj. It has a frontier feel. When the English traveller Edith Durham travelled through Kosovo in 1908, she stopped just briefly in Ferizaj, remarking that this was a community created by the ...
The gardens at Alfàbia on the island of Mallorca (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

We wandered amid bamboo and eucalyptuses, past carob trees and citrus orchards, by pomegranates and myrtle. The gardens at Alfàbia on the island of Mallorca are one of many beautiful places we have visited as part of our work for hidden ...
Moscow Belorussky railway station, the starting point for the direct service from Moscow to Sofia which connects seven capital cities. The new service launches on 13 December 2015 (photo © Victoria Demidova / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Issue 47 of hidden europe magazine
Letter from Europe

hidden europe 47 is published today. It costs just 8 euros, and for that you'll get some of the finest travel writing around. If you like our regular Letter from Europe, why not support our work by taking out a sub to the print ...
Letter from Europe

75 years ago this week, Hitler was on the move. Within just a few days, the Führer's train was in north-west France, in the Basque region and in Tuscany. But this was no holiday. On 23 October 1940, Hitler met General Franco in Hendaye. It was the ...
Letter from Europe

The decision 170 years ago to build a great viaduct across the Neisse Valley was a visionary leap. Now that elegant structure needs a dose of 21st-century vision. Because what use is a graceful viaduct if it doesn't have any ...
End of the line for the slow train from the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary: Marianske Lazne (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Image © saniphoto / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
London's new gateway to the Mediterranean: new direct Eurostar service from St Pancras to Marseille starts on 1 May 2015 (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

It was 50 years ago that Salvador Dalí completed his celebrated La Gare de Perpignan. It is a huge oil painting which now hangs in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. It celebrates Perpignan as the very centre of the ...
Eurostar trains waiting at the platforms at St Pancras station in London (photo © MorganOliver / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

It was 274 years ago today that Frederick II of Prussia rode through the Schweidnitzer Gate in Breslau to claim the Silesian city for Prussia. It is a mark of Frederick's style that he was accompanied, as he ceremonially entered the city, not by ...
Letter from Europe

Four weeks from today much of Europe will awaken to new train timetables. Each year in December, new schedules come into effect across the continent. The big day this year is Sunday 14 December. We take look at a dozen positive developments worth ...
Narrow-gauge steam train at the top of the Brocken in Germany’s Harz Mountains (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

In our second article to mark 25 years since the political changes in East Germany of late 1989, we make a pilgrimage to one of Germany's most celebrated mountains: the ...
Letter from Europe

Shortly after ten o’clock this morning a priest stepped forward to the podium and blessed Vienna’s new railway station. There were speeches aplenty with the statutory votes of thanks to those who have presided over planning committees and ...
Unusual motive power: the 18.08 train from Salzburg to Vienna is powered by Austrian lawyers (photo © Tomnex / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

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. ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Park station in Johannesburg, South Africa (photo © Alan Gignoux / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Last month, hidden europe co-editor Nicky Gardner visited South Africa and adjacent countries. For a change we look beyond Europe, joining Nicky as she mills with the late afternoon commuter crowds at the main railway station in ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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. ...
Letter from Europe

The waters came, and so did the European media. The water was ruthless and unsympathetic. It tore down bridges and wrecked homes. The mud and debris that came with the flood blocked culverts and drains. Lives were put on the line. So too were ...
Letter from Europe

I like the 11.31. It departs at a civilised time. While others slip into communion with their laptops and smartphones, I watch. We glide gently out of St Pancras. As the track curves to the east, eyes right for a view back over St Pancras - one of ...
Letter from Europe

Just think how good it would be if you could board a train in Milan and wake up next morning in Manchester. Forty years ago this spring, civil servants in London and European rail planners were sketching out the first tentative ideas for just such ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

The departure boards at London's St Pancras station are regaining their eclectic character of yesteryear. Cast back half a century and St Pancras had its share of trains to fire the imagination. Perhaps the most distinguished morning departure from ...
Letter from Europe

Septemvri might have been a railway town like Swindon. If Isambard Kingdom Brunel had not built a carriage works at Swindon on his Great Western Railway, the place would probably have remained an insignificant dot on the map halfway between London ...
Letter from Europe

Europe's railway geography was reshaped last night. New timetables kicked in, bringing a host of novel travel options. Newly-built rail routes opened in Holland and Austria. A new high-speed service now links Amsterdam and Brussels. And northern ...
The Church of the Resurrection located on the rock above the Black Sea in Foros, Ukraine (photo © Andybor / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Foros is a place for holidays and for history. During the Soviet era, this resort at the southern tip of the Crimea was much favoured by Kremlin leaders looking for a little summer relaxation. Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev was at his dacha in ...
Letter from Europe

Where were we? Ah, yes... Contemplating the western horizon as October slipped into November. 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 ...
Letter from Europe

Year by year, the population of Obozersky dwindles. Fifty years ago, more than 7000 people lived in this little town in the Russian Arctic. More than half have left. They took the train south and never returned. The cream and brown railway station ...
Letter from Europe

hidden europe 37 is published today. You can review the full table of contents with summaries and extracts from every article on our website. More on that anon, but let's stop for a while on the edge of a Polish forest. In the very centre of the ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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. ...
Letter from Europe

International Women's Day (IWD), which is celebrated today in many countries across the world, has been a feature of the European social landscape for more than a century. From the outset, IWD gave focus to a range of initiatives across Europe that ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

There is something quite exquisite about grand railway termini. Folk fly through them, the dash for the train diminishing the status of these great cathedrals to travel. But these are not places through which one should rush. So we lingered at St ...
Letter from Europe

We drifted slowly through wintry forests, past unkempt meadows and villages full of scrawny desolation. We crossed the River Odra four times. And four times I gazed down at the river's wine-dark waters from the train, watching the waters swirling ...
Letter from Europe

My brief was to take the pulse of eastern Germany on the 21st anniversary of her union (in October 1990) with her bigger neighbour to the west. Thus was a new and larger Germany born. Twenty-first birthdays have symbolic rather than any legal ...
Letter from Europe

Travelling across the North European Plain, a vast sweep of two-dimensional terrain that extends from Brussels to Berlin and beyond, travellers might well give thanks for whatever modest hills punctuate their journey. The Harz Mountains barely rise ...
Letter from Europe

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. ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

You could easily miss Elton. The train from Dublin to Cork speeds past Elton. You hardly catch a glimpse of the cluster of houses that make up this little Irish village. When the grandly titled Great Southern and Western Railway built a line ...
Letter from Europe

"April is the cruellest month," wrote TS Eliot. Not so in southern Sweden, where March can be much crueller than April. This is the season when winter's icy hold on forests and lakes is challenged by slowly rising temperatures. Thick lake ice turns ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

If you like three dimensional landscapes, then Germany's most northerly state of Schleswig-Holstein is probably not for you. The hills are there, but you have to look hard to see them. We took a local train across Schleswig-Holstein last Sunday on ...
Letter from Europe

New Year's Day. Again. Aching heads for those who took their Hogmanay revelries a little too seriously. We slipped into 2011 in a little house on the edge of a heath on one of the North Frisian islands. Yet Estonia awakens today to the euro as its ...
Letter from Europe

It was just an hour on the train to Putbus, a little community on the Baltic island of Rügen that is impossibly grand for such a remote spot. Just four thousand souls, yet a town so full of aristocratic associations that it seems like a Baltic take ...
Letter from Europe

A few days ago, we sped from London to Paris on Eurostar, a journey of some five hundred kilometres, in little over two hours. It is very fast, and always leaves us feeling just a little bit breathless. So on arrival in Paris we went as always to ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

While much of the world worries about the possible impact of rising sea levels on coastal communities, the Kvarken islands have the opposite problem. This archipelago in the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland is still on the rebound - as it ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

Is not the journey to the airport often one of the great hassles of modern travel? Not all of us can enjoy the relaxed approach taken in the Isle of Man where narrow gauge steam trains pause on request at Ronaldsway Halt, just a short walk from the ...
Letter from Europe

Alighting from the train at Bregenz station in Austria, the traveller instantly has a sense of being in a place that takes recreation seriously. The station architecture is memorably bizarre with its turquoise-green platform canopies and the spiral ...
Letter from Europe

The first town over the hills, on the Czech side of the border, is Domazlice. Just twenty minutes on the steam trains that this weekend shuttle between Furth and Domazlice. The Czech town has a fabulous elongated main square that during these ...
Letter from Europe

hidden europe reviews options for purchasing rail tickets for travelling in Europe. We selected a basket of five hypothetical European rail journeys, specifying precise dates, routes and class of travel. Then we cast around on the Internet, and ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

If Abkhazia were more secure and better promoted, it would surely be a holiday paradise to match anywhere in the Mediterranean. It was a favourite with Soviet leaders. The area is spectacular with serene beaches backed by meadows, orchards and ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

The benefits of having open borders across most of Europe are beginning to influence the pattern of weekend excursions made by Europeans living or taking holidays in frontier areas. The burden of having to show a passport at a border was never an ...
Letter from Europe

It is that time of year when Baltic seaside resorts come into their own, reminding the rest of Europe that beach culture is not solely a Mediterranean prerogative. The sedate charms of Sellin (on the German island of Rügen) are a world away from ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

Consider a journey that starts in the Swiss Alps and ends in an abandoned city in the south Caucasus region. To be more precise, we'll start at Pontresina, just over the hill from St Moritz. It's a place where poets and philosophers used to come ...
Letter from Europe

From Zürich it was just three hours on happily empty trains via Landquart and Klosters to Zernez in the Inn valley. There is something rather nice about entering the long tunnel at Klosters, knowing that, in a matter of minutes, one will be ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

Few of the passengers snoozing on the train even noticed Gornje Lezece. The train had twisted and turned through valleys where the hillsides tilted sharper and sharper, sharp screeches of wheels on ancient rails, and the wind blowing madly through ...
Letter from Europe

Reports this week of Montenegro's imminent status as Europe's newest nation state have prompted us in hidden europe to take a look at some of the smaller republics that once featured on the shores of the eastern Adriatic. Who now remembers the ...
Letter from Europe

Western European observers of the east of our continent have had their eyes trained on Serbia and Belarus this past weekend. The Milosevic funeral in Pozarevac, a small city on the Danube plain seventy kilometres east of Belgrade, became a rallying ...
Letter from Europe

In the picture perfect world of wooden houses and picket fences that is Lutepää (on Estonia's eastern border with Russia), every household has neatly stacked piles of wood ready for winter. The rich autumn whiff of burning wood has already eclipsed ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...