Articles tagged:

Railways

Magazine article

Exploring Europe by rail

by hidden europe

We never planned to write about trains. But it just sort of happened and then we developed a curious niche writing about railway journeys. Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries reflect on a serendipitous opportunity.

Magazine article

Saint-Gingolph

by hidden europe

Why would I eat lunch on the Swiss side when a well-cooked plate of perch from Lake Geneva costs so much less in France? We visit Saint-Gingolph, a lakeshore village divided by an international frontier.

Magazine article

From slow boats to slow trains

by hidden europe

If you have some time to spare, don’t take the fast train when there’s a slower option. The latter will almost certainly be more interesting. We share some of our favourite slow journeys, citing examples from Calabria, Danish Jutland, Spain and Germany.

Magazine article

All change for 2023: New rail links

by hidden europe

A new daily rail link from Warsaw to Lithuania, direct trains from Bordeaux to the Black Forest and new night trains from Genoa, Dresden and Stuttgart all feature in Europe’s 2023 train timetables which come into effect on Sunday 11 December 2022.

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50 years of Interrail

We know that many readers of hidden europe were quick off the mark in May this year when, to celebrate 50 years of Interrail, some passes were available for 50% off the list price. A superb offer that means that there are now thousands of people holding passes valid until next April but uncertain when and where to use them.

Magazine article

The Athus factor

by hidden europe

Never heard of Athus? It's a small town in south-east Belgium through which you must route if you wish to travel by train from London to Poland's Baltic coast for just €120 return.

Magazine article

Visitor mobility

by hidden europe

How far should the local travel requirements for tourists be met by a region’s regular transport infrastructure? Or does it make sense to lay on special services for seasonal visitors? We look at examples from Switzerland and Britain.

Magazine article

A triple dose of culture: Europe’s cultural capitals

by Nicky Gardner

Can you name Europe's three capitals of culture for 2022? All three are the second-largest cities in their respective countries. Step forward Esch-sur-Alzette, Novi Sad and Kaunas. International visitors to the latter two will surely find it immensely frustrating that there are no cross-border train services to Kaunas and Novi Sad.

Magazine article

Fifty years of Interrail: the freedom to explore Europe

by Nicky Gardner

Allow yourself to be curious! Take time to wander. That’s the beauty of Interrail, the rail pass which gives travellers the freedom to explore Europe. March 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Interrail. We celebrate the first half-century of a scheme which has so dramatically shaped Europeans’ understanding of their home continent.

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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.

Magazine article

Allegro speculations

by hidden europe

No rail operator’s international operations were more brutally affected by the pandemic that those of RZD Russian Railways. Links from Russia to fourteen other European countries were suspended in March 2020, and none of those regular passenger services have yet been restored.

Magazine article

Time for change: new rail services for 2022

Slower trains from Newcastle to Edinburgh and faster dashes from Cologne to Berlin are in the offing. New rail timetables across Europe come in effect in mid-December 2021. New night trains from Austria to France and from Switzerland to the Netherlands will start. We highlight some key changes in European rail schedules.

Magazine article

Promoting Europe: the Connecting Europe Express

On 7 October 2021, a train from Lisbon arrived in Paris. The journey from the Portuguese capital had taken five weeks. The Connecting Europe Express was no ordinary train, but one which recalled the fine tradition of agit-prop trains which 100 years ago criss-crossed Russia to spread the Bolshevik message.

Magazine article

Flashback 1971: travels of yesteryear

by Nicky Gardner

There was a time when you could travel from Turin or Trieste to Moscow or from Istanbul to Beirut or Baghdad without changing trains. We look back half a century and explore the rail journeys which were on offer in the summer of 1971. It was a time when many premium trains between major European cities carried only first-class seating, with fares which were well beyond anything that many travellers could afford.

Magazine article

War trains

by hidden europe

Many railways across Europe were built to satisfy military ambition. In the hinterland of Berlin there is a railway line which was constructed quite explicitly as a military plaything. In the Nazi period, the very existence of this railway influenced the preferred location for German experiments in missile and nuclear technologies.

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Slavutych and the nuclear industry

The Ukrainian city of Slavutych is a striking surviving example of a planned Soviet city underpinned by utopian principles – and even if the latter were sometimes diluted by pragmatism, there is a palpable sense of a well-designed and carefully planned community. It also is an atomgorod which offers a green setting and steady employment to its citizens.

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Terminus - a 1961 documentary

The film director John Schlesinger was largely unknown when in 1960 he was persuaded by Edgar Anstey to make a documentary for British Transport Films (BTF). Terminus went on general release in 1961 and provoked a very positive response from the public. Its setting was London Waterloo station.

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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.

Magazine article

New night trains in 2021

by hidden europe

The privacy of a cosy compartment is part of the appeal of the overnight train. The pandemic has changed attitudes and travellers are now mightily aware of the importance of space and privacy. So it is no wonder that demand for night sleeper services has rocketed. The coming months will see new overnight trains to the Netherlands, Sweden, the Croatian coast, Lake Constance and the French Riviera.

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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.

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Changing trains

Railway stations where passengers were able to change trains, but which could not be used to start or end a journey, were common in the past. They were often called exchange platforms or exchange stations. Few exist today, but we track down working examples at Sagliains in Switzerland and Manulla in Ireland.

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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.

Magazine article

The 21.48 from Aachen

by Paul Scraton

The prospect of an overnight train journey should be something to savour. But Paul Scraton’s thought upon boarding his train in Aachen is to ask “Where, oh where are the beds?” Paul endures a memorable, though not very comfortable, overnight ride to Berlin.

Magazine article

The Map-Maker: From Brockley to València

by Nicky Gardner

We explore the work of contemporary illustrator Mike Hall who, from his base in Spain, produces many very fine maps. Creative use of tints and fonts, often complemented by an elaborate cartouche, and a bold aesthetic underpin maps which are both practical and beautiful.

Magazine article

Night Vision: Sleeping through Europe

by Nicky Gardner

Changing attitudes towards travel, prompted in part by a fuller appreciation of how air travel is causing climate change, are helping fuel a renaissance in rail travel across Europe. That’s as true of overnight services as it is of day trains. But new night sleeper services require dedicated carriages that will take time to build. And there are some major regulatory issues to be addressed if we are to see Europe’s night trains reaching their full potential.

Magazine article

Bregenz to Berne: Lands of Silk and Money

by Nicky Gardner

There’s a touch of theatre about the rail journey from Bregenz on Lake Constance to Berne in Switzerland. We feature it in hidden europe 61 as the perfect outing for those venturing nervously forth after weeks or months at home during the Coronavirus pandemic. Join us on this classic journey past lakes and mountains.

Magazine article

Editorial hidden europe 61

by hidden europe

Coronavirus seemed merely a distant threat as the last issue of hidden europe went to press on 28 February. We then spent the early part of March in Luxembourg and Switzerland, making tracks for Berlin just as much of Europe shut down due to Coronavirus. Life suddenly became quieter. We all had time to think.

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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.

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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.

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Anxious Days

You are most likely, as we are, staying close to home. We have time to ponder. And that itself can be a very positive thing. Rest assured that we'll continue to reflect European lives and landscapes with our regular Letter from Europe, ever aware that in times of social distancing and self-imposed isolation it is often good to get a glimpse of life elsewhere.

Magazine article

Legacy Railcards

by hidden europe

So you thought the idea of a discount railcard was something new? Think again - the Swiss Halbtax card was introduced in the 19th century.

Magazine article

Border-hopping Rail Tariffs

by hidden europe

We delve into the high theology of rail fares, noting the phenomenon of the extra-territorial tariff point. So Aachen in Germany features in the Belgian domestic tariff, and Schaffhausen in Switzerland is a German tariff point (as well as being a Swiss one). Enjoy.

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All Change in Luxembourg

There is much ado in Luxembourg - a country which is getting some good press these days as it gears up to introduce free public transport. We shall be in Luxembourg next week to witness the introduction of free public transport on 1 March. And we shall follow with interest this great national experiment.

Magazine article

Sixty Years of Eurail

by hidden europe
2019 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the launch of the Eurail pass. Rail Europe Inc sold the first passes in North America in 1959. We look at how Eurail helped shape perceptions of Europe for overseas visitors and see how the Eurail scheme helped catalyse Europe's Interrail scheme.
Magazine article

Unfinished business

by hidden europe
In a field near the village of Urbès in eastern France, a stretch of graceful railway viaduct stands alone in a valley. It has never been connected to any railway line. It's a poignant reminder of what might have been.
Magazine article

Marking Time: New Train Services for 2020

by Nicky Gardner

The hidden europe award for ingenuity in creating new European rail travel opportunities is awarded to Austria's state rail operator, Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB). We look at what ÖBB will offer anew for 2020, and examine too what's new on the rails in Russia, Germany and elsewhere across Europe.

Magazine article

The Death of Romance

by Nicky Gardner
Germany has themed tourist routes aplenty, but one of the earliest was the so-called Romantic Road, which leads from Würzburg in northern Bavaria south towards the Alps. It was hugely popular with American visitors, becoming a sort of showcase for a mock-mediaeval Germany. Bratwurst and beer aplenty, but not a mention of Germany's Nazi past.
Magazine article

Making Tracks for Sweden

by Nicky Gardner

As winter slipped slowly into spring in 1917, Lenin passed through Berlin on his journey back to Russia from Switzerland. His onward route from Berlin took him by train to Sassnitz, then on by ferry to Trelleborg in Sweden. These days it's still possible to follow the route taken by Lenin, using the occasional direct trains from Berlin to Sweden.

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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.

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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.

Magazine article

To the Urals and the Russian Riviera

by hidden europe
Direct trains from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to such far flung destinations as Sochi and Adler (both on the Russia's Back Sea Riviera) and to Anapa and Chelyabinsk recall the days of Soviet travel. We scan the departure boards for a few exotica.
Magazine article

New Interrail Passes

by hidden europe
Train fares are getting cheaper. As retailer Loco2 launches split tickets in the British market, travellers on longer journeys across the continent are discovering that judicious use of an Interrail pass can undercut the cost of a regular return ticket. Interrail may make sense even for just one round trip.
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Farewell to a London Ghost Train

This is the story of Paddington’s ghost train which runs for the last time today. The 11.35 to High Wycombe uses the New North Line out of Paddington towards the Chiltern Hills.

Magazine article

Dzukija National Park

by hidden europe
Great sand seas seem at home in the Sahara or Namib deserts - or even perhaps on Mars. But in southern Lithuania is a striking sandy landscape shaped largely by the winds. Dzukija National Park is a region of fossil dunescapes.
Magazine article

CityStar Ticket

by hidden europe
Discover a special rail tariff which offers cheap deals for travels from Slovakia to destinations in the Alps, eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Magazine article

Central Europe by Night

by hidden europe
New rail timetables kick in across Europe on 9 December 2018. There are new direct daytime links from Bratislava to Innsbruck and Zürich, and from the Austria city of Linz to both Halle and Berlin. But the showpiece innovation is a new direct night train from Berlin to Vienna.
Magazine article

The Swiss Jura by Train

by Nicky Gardner
For first impressions of the Swiss Jura, hop on the red train which plies the narrow-gauge rail route from Glovelier to La Chaux-de-Fonds. Green landscapes aplenty, but tucked away in these hills are communities which were influential in the development of European anarchism.
Magazine article

Lviv Rail Links

by hidden europe
News that a new night train, aimed largely at travellers from Ukraine, will link Przemyśl with Berlin from later this year is a sure sign that Ukrainians are making the most of visa-free access to the Schengen group of nations. The new demand for cross-border trains means that rail links to Lviv from the EU have greatly improved over the past year.
Magazine article

Reading Matters

by hidden europe
Russian Railways (RZD) have launched their Library for Young Travellers programme with a selection of books for kids on trains to holiday destinations across Russia. Hop aboard for fairy tales, classic novels and a wide choice of poetry by Russian and international writers.
Magazine article

Corridor Trains

by Nicky Gardner

Corridor trains (Korridorzüge in German) have a privileged status in international law which makes provision for the trains of one country to transit another country's territory without onerous bureaucracy and border checks. With the fading of borders in Europe, the corridor train is no longer as important as once it was. We look at some examples of corridor trains past and present.

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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.

Magazine article

Vintage Views: Railways and Wine Tourism

by Nicky Gardner
What better way to survey some of the world's great vineyards than from the comfort of a train cruising slowly through a region celebrated for its fine wines? Ideally with a glass of wine to hand! We explore opportunities for rail-wine tourism in Spain, Hungary, France, Portugal and further afield.
Magazine article

The Spinetta Report

by hidden europe
In the future it may not be so easy to take the slow train from Sospel to Tende. Or from Clermont-Ferrand to Nîmes. Jean-Cyril Spinetta's February 2018 report to President Macron is not good news for regional rail routes in France. It may be overdoing it to call Spinetta the French Beeching - but the fallout from the report is worth watching.
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A tangle of detail on the rails

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 wonderfully.

Magazine article

Exploring Europe by Train

by Nicky Gardner
New editions of Mike Ball's European Railway Atlas and our own Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide have just been published. We take a look at these two new additions to the rail traveller's armamentarium.
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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.

Magazine article

Rail Travel News

by hidden europe
Two new high speed rail routes in France, extra trains through the Alps and new services to Ukraine are the headline stories in the summer 2017 rail timetables. We review what's new and what's gone.
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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.

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Willow-herb, meadowsweet and steam

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 writer.

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April 1917: Lenin returns to Russia

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 Germany.

Magazine article

Bookmark: Jízdní Rád

Now here's a really remarkable book. The Czech national railway timetable for 2017 may not be great when it comes to plot structure and character development, but it is nonetheless an engaging read. Trust us!
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150 years after Agar Town

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 Town was tucked into the wedge of land between the Regent's Canal and the main railway line running north from King's Cross.

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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.

Magazine article

Exploring the Ore Mountains

by hidden europe
The Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) offer excellent possibilities for hiking, cycling and cross-country skiing. But even less energetic visitors can reach remote communities in the region by local bus and train services.
Magazine article

The Hills of Western Serbia

by Laurence Mitchell
There are many visions of Yugoslavia's past. Laurence Mitchell visits the hills of western Serbia to learn how heritage and history fuel the imagination. It's a journey that starts and ends in Uzice and takes in the famous Sargan Eight narrow-gauge railway.
Magazine article

South to Sicily

by Nicky Gardner
The latest book from hidden europe editors Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries is Europe by Rail. Catch the flavour of this new edition with our train journey from Rome to Sicily, specially adapted from the book for this issue of the magazine.
Magazine article

Platform Zero

by Nicky Gardner
At Augsburg station in Bavaria, there is a Platform 801, while a number of stations around Europe have a Platform 0 - among them Aarau in Switzerland and King's Cross station in London. We take a look at the Platform Zero phenomenon.
Magazine article

Bosna-gauge Railways

by hidden europe
Had the Balkan region narrow-gauge rail network survived, it would surely today be a cherished asset in promoting tourism over a wide region - in much the same way as the narrow-gauge Rhaetian Railway network has been important in attracting visitors to the Graubünden region of eastern Switzerland.
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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.

Magazine article

Kosovo travel notes

by hidden europe

It's perfectly sensible to travel from Budapest to Thessaloniki through Kosovo. But it's unwise to attempt the journey in the reverse direction. Find out why in our notes on travelling through Kosovo.

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The Oban Sleeper

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 hope it might presage the reintroduction of regular overnight trains from London to Oban.

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A Kosovo tale

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 railway.

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Exploring Alfàbia

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 europe.

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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.

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A new issue of the magazine: hidden europe 47

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 magazine? Find out more about the contents of this latest issue of hidden europe.

Magazine article

Eastern connections: rail links through Ukraine

by Nicky Gardner

At a very practical level, the difficult relations between Russia and Ukraine - and in particular their competing interests in Crimea - is playing itself out in train timetables. No trains have run from Ukraine's Kherson Oblast into Crimea for almost a year now. But the effects of the conflict have been felt much further afield, with rail services from Moscow to the Balkans being disrupted.

Magazine article

Slow train to Sarajevo

by Nicky Gardner

Twenty years ago this autumn, the Dayton Peace Accord brought a measure of peace to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Join us as we take the train from Zagreb to Sarajevo, travelling through a region which still bears the scars of war.

Magazine article

All change at Westbahnhof

by Duncan JD Smith

Big changes are afoot at the Westbahnhof in Vienna, a station which these past months has seen crowds of refugees from Syria and elsewhere. Vienna-based writer Duncan JD Smith takes a look at how the station has changed over the years.

Magazine article

Keeping track

by hidden europe

It is that time of year when Europe prepares to introduce new train timetables. The 2016 schedules come into effect on Sunday 13 December 2015. As usual, there are winners and losers. We look at some new services.

Magazine article

Ukrainian-Russian links

by hidden europe

The tit-for-tat posturing between Ukraine and Russia benefits no-one trying to travel to and from Crimea - or for that matter anywhere in the border regions between the two countries. In late October 2015, air links between Russia and Ukraine were severed.

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Encounter at Hendaye

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 only face-to-face meeting of the two leaders.

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No train to Poland

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 trains?

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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.

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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.

Magazine article

North from Paris: with Eurostar and Émile Zola

by Nicky Gardner

Tolstoy, Dickens and Zola all wrote about railways - but in very different ways. Zola's La Bête humaine is one of the great railway novels of European literature. The perfect read, we thought, prior to joining train driver Andy Pratt in the cab of a Eurostar train at the Gare du Nord station in Paris.

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A station in the shadows

by hidden europe

The Gare Saint-Lazare attracted the artists. Yet Paris Gare du Nord has a grittier atmosphere. This busiest of Paris' railway termini is ultimately a station in the shadows. And therein lies its enduring appeal.

Magazine article

Railway ghosts

by hidden europe

Literary ghosts haunt the pages of mid and late 19th-century fiction - from Henry James The Turn of the Screw to Charles Dickens' The Haunted House. One of the spookiest tales of all is Dickens' The Signalman, a fine short story which may have been influenced by the train crash in which Dickens was involved in summer 1865.

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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.

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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.

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The centre of the universe

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 universe.

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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.

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A touch of Russia

by Nicky Gardner

Europe has so many very comfortable train services, but it's really hard to trump the top-of-the-range Russian trains used on routes from Moscow to many cities in central and western Europe. For inner-EU journeys, these trains are often great value. Hop on board for Russian style.

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A Silesian story

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 cannons but by a number of packhorses carrying the royal tableware.

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New rail services across 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 noting.

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Express bus to London?

by Nicky Gardner

There was a time when Deutsche Bahn (DB) only operated trains. Now they are emerging as serious players in the bus business. We just wonder if they have London in their sights? Their IC-Bus network is expanding and they already have a route from Düsseldorf to Antwerp. Extending it to London might be a way of delivering on DB's oft-repeated claim that it would enter the cross-Channel market.

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The Talgo tale

by hidden europe

The story of the Talgo trains of Bosnia reveals a quite stunning waste of money. This is a country which invested in a new fleet of trains which are simply incompatible with its antiquated rail infrastructure.

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Vienna’s new railway station

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 management boards. And there was music too: ‘Mamma Mia’ filled the concourse.

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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.

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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.

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Letter from Africa: Doing okay, Mama

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 Johannesburg.

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Cross-border links in the Carpathians

by Nicky Gardner

New cross-border roads have enhanced communications across the Polish-Slovakian border, two countries which have greatly benefited from becoming part of the Schengen region. The new roads are good news for private motorists, but those who rely on public transport are mourning the demise of cross-border rail routes in the same region.

Magazine article

Escape from Carlsbad

by hidden europe

The funicular railway to the Café Diana on the hills above the spa town of Karlovy Vary marks a birthday this summer: it was opened to the public in 1914. It remains the easy way to get a bird's-eye view of Karlovy Vary (the town often referred in older travel literature as Carlsbad). The doctors treating spa clients would naturally prefer that their patients walk rather than ride up the hillside.

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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.

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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.

Magazine article

Into the hills: a Bohemian diversion

by Nicky Gardner

Of course one can speed across Europe on sleek, fast trains. But slow trains, the kind that dawdle along branch lines, are so much more interesting. We ride a rural rail route in northern Bohemia, where fading railway stations reveal a Habsburg history. Join us on the slow train to Dolni Poustevna.

Magazine article

Rail timetable reborn

by hidden europe

The renaissance of the European Rail Timetable (ERT) is good news for rail travellers across the continent. The decision last year by Thomas Cook to scrap the title was a bitter blow. But, thanks to a new company set up by the team that compiled the timetable in Thomas Cook days, the ERT is back.

Magazine article

Opting for the Dutch Flyer

by Nicky Gardner

The last remaining integrated rail-sea ticket between England and the Continent is the Dutch Flyer. We recall journeys of yesteryear as we set off from London and use the Harwich-Hook ferry to reach the Netherlands.

Magazine article

All points east

by Nicky Gardner

The new rail schedules for 2014 kick in across Europe in mid-December. Big changes are afoot as Russia rethinks its strategy for passenger services from Moscow to principal cities in the European Union. There are changes to night train services, a new international link from Austria and much more.

Magazine article

By train to Sóller

by hidden europe

The jewel in the crown of Mallorca's railways is the delightfully antiquated Ferrocarril de Sóller. Last year, it celebrated 100 years of service. It is just one of three separate railways to serve the Mediterranean island.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Magazine article

Hitting the buffers

by hidden europe

Does the European Rail Timetable, published by Thomas Cook since 1873, have a future with a new publisher? Plans are afoot for the relaunch of a book that has defined horizons for generations of travellers.

Magazine article

The lost kingdom

by Nicky Gardner

A 1924 essay by Joseph Roth on an unsung railway station in Berlin fired our imagination and inspired us to take the train to Gleisdreieck - an elevated station that in Roth's day looked down on a tangled maze of railway lines and sidings. Nowadays, nature is reclaiming the industrial landscapes of yesteryear.

Magazine article

New ports for the Far North

by Nicky Gardner

The harbour front at Kirkenes could be transformed if the Norwegian port became a major transit point for freight to and from Russia. The key to this happening is getting Russian-gauge railway tracks to Kirkenes. But other ports in northern Norway are also developing similar plans. We look at the politics of laying tracks across frontiers.

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After the flood

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 livelihoods as the water flooded factories, warehouses and business premises.

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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.

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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.

Magazine article

The route to Zakopane: a journey of the spirit

by Nicky Gardner

The slow train journey from Kraków to Zakopane seems to last an eternity. The names of the forty-one stations along the way – and our train pauses at every one of them – make a wonderful litany of Polish toponyms. The route takes in a remarkable religious landscape (one that is inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List) and the valley where Lenin and other early Bolsheviks helped shape their revolutionary code. It concludes at Poland's premier mountain resort.

Magazine article

The ghost of Beeching

by Nicky Gardner

Is cutting public transport links in rural areas and across its borders really the right way for Croatia to gear up to join the European Union this summer? We look at how the pieties of the market are playing havoc with rail services in the north Balkan region.

Magazine article

Retrospect 1873: Salzburg to Vienna

by Nicky Gardner

There is a prevailing view in Salzburg that Vienna is halfway to Asia. And that is certainly the perspective with which 19th-century travellers from western Europe approached Vienna. We retrace the itinerary followed by Thomas Cook's clients in 1873 as they headed east to Vienna to attend the World Fair hosted that year in the Austrian capital.

Magazine article

The Book of Hours

by Nicky Gardner

Some argue that printed timetables are obsolete in an Internet Age. But no online database has ever managed to capture the overall pattern of a train service with the fluency of the tabular format used in printed timetables. We probe the magic appeal of Bradshaw's guides and Thomas Cook's timetables and reflect on which of the two might claim the upper hand.

Magazine article

History for sale

by hidden europe

Many abandoned station buildings in rural Poland are finding new life as private entrepreneurs restore them to their former glory. This spring the Polish authorities are selling off a further tranche of buildings, most of them remarkable pieces of architecture.

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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.

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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.

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The Aix Factor

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 St Pancras in those days was the 11.20 Midland Pullman to Nottingham. This train consisted only of first-class Pullman cars, affording cushioned comfort for passengers taking a leisurely luncheon as the train cruised north to Nottingham.

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Through the Rhodopes

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 and Bristol. Like Swindon, the Bulgarian community of Septemvri was born of the railway.

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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?

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Crimea connections

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 Foros in August 1991 when the old guard in Moscow attempted to seize power. The coup failed, but it nudged the Soviet Union over the brink. Within a week, the Union was unravelling as constituent republics edged towards independence.

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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'.

Magazine article

To Heaven's Gate: Journeys of the mind

by Nicky Gardner

The journeys never made are sometimes more deeply inscribed on the imagination than those actually undertaken. hidden europe co-editor Nicky Gardner reflects on the night train from Schwerin, a train that somehow she never quite managed to ride before it disappeared from the timetables.

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Time check

by hidden europe

The second weekend in December sees new rail timetables introduced across Europe. The new schedules see a significant recasting on long distance services in the northern Balkans. Two new international night trains will link Italy with France and Germany respectively.

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The train to Tundra

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 is spick and span and, along with the Orthodox church, is one of the smartest buildings in town. Railways and religion are the mainstays of rural Russia.

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Slow is better: the real value of InterRail

“InterRail isn’t the same as in the early days,” came the cry after our 40th-birthday bouquet in honour of InterRail published in hidden europe 37. Several correspondents have contacted us with stories of how InterRail and Eurail have lost their gloss. Many hold against the scheme that there are too many supplements nowadays — unlike forty years ago, when you could just hop on any train and travel where you wanted. But is this true? It's time to put the record straight.

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Napoleon never made it to San Marino

hidden europe 37 is published today. More on that anon, but let's stop for a while on the edge of a Polish forest. In the very centre of the forest, we were told, is the spot where the emperors of the forest hold their court. So we went off in search of the ancient buffalo, the bison and the bear. We certainly found the bison but it is surely many a year since bear roamed the forests of Bialowieza.

Magazine article

The Schengen factor

by Nicky Gardner

Schengen is more than just a village on the banks of the River Moselle in Luxembourg. The Schengen programme of free movement across borders helps shape modern Europe geographies. It explains why trains now rumble by night through Hodos and why travellers can no longer enjoy the creatures comforts of night sleepers from England to the continent.

Magazine article

Stranded in San Marino

by hidden europe

San Marino may no longer have a passenger railway. It does however still have a train, thus marking out San Marino as one of two countries in Europe that have a train but no railway. The surviving train in San Marino is a graceful addition to the landscape of the mountainous republic in the Apennines. It is perched on an old railway bridge.

Magazine article

Swiss connections: the city of Basel

by Nicky Gardner

The station departure boards at Basel are nowadays not quite so exotic as once they were. True there's still the occasional train to Minsk and Moscow, but no longer are there direct trains to Spain, Romania and England. Yet Basel's Swiss and French stations still ooze character. We follow Russian spies to the home city of Carl Gustav Jung.

Magazine article

Ticket to ride: 40 years of InterRail

by Nicky Gardner

InterRail is far more than just a train ticket. Cast back to the nineteen seventies, and the rail pass was feted by a generation of young Europeans as the ultimate 'ticket to ride'. InterRail appealed to the wanderlust of travellers who took weeks to explore the boundaries of both Europe and themselves. Co-editor of hidden europe Nicky Gardner reflects on the early days of InterRail and notes how the scheme now appeals to Europeans of all ages.

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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.

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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.

Magazine article

Sanctuary: in the shadow of St Pancras

by Nicky Gardner

In 'A Tale of Two Cities', Dickens recalls the work of bodysnatchers in St Pancras Churchyard. The graveyard is in the very shadow of London's magnificently restored St Pancras station. We reflect on how the railways have reshaped the St Pancras area, pay a visit to Somers Town and savour the renaissance of the former Midland Grand station hotel, which reopened as the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

Magazine article

Agar Town

by hidden europe

We remember Agar Town, an area of London that simply disappeared from the maps when in 1866 the Midland Railway edged south towards St Pancras.

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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.

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Women on the rails

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 pre-dated the designation of a special day. For example, Emmeline Pankhurst's suffragettes had already been very effectively promoting women's rights in England, while Clara Zetkin and her followers had been pursuing a similar agenda in Germany.

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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.

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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.

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Letter from St Pancras

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 Pancras in London for almost an entire day, catching the changing moods of William Barlow's magnificent train shed at dusk and dawn.

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Polish mysteries

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 under bridges, swirling through history. We stopped on a level crossing, inconveniencing no-one, for cars there were none. But that was a fine moment, sunshine tussling with midday mist and for once getting the upper hand.

Magazine article

Steaming through the Harz Mountains

by Nicky Gardner

The Harz Mountains lie astride the erstwhile border between East Germany and West Germany. The forested hills of the Harz preside over the North European Plain. The eastern portion of the Harz benefits from a legacy of East Germany: a wonderful narrow-gauge railway system. This is slow travel at its best, as we explore the Harz Mountains in autumn.

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The other Germany

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 meaning, but in many cultures there is still a sense of 'coming-of-age' at 21. And this week, all sixteen states in the reunified Germany had a day off work to mark this happy occasion.

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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.

Magazine article

To name a train: from Easterlings to Tyrolean bacon

by Nicky Gardner

This summer marks the 80th anniversary of the launch of one of Russia’s most famous trains, the ‘Red Arrow’ fast overnight service between Moscow and St Petersburg. hidden europe editor Nicky Gardner has been taking a look at some of Europe’s most memorably named trains — and a few less memorable ones.

Magazine article

Switzerland by train: Zürich to Lausanne

by Nicky Gardner

The Glacier Express is one of Switzerland’s most celebrated rail journeys. But it is expensive and dreadfully touristy. Travellers looking to see the best of Switzerland by train could, we think, do better. The rail journey from Zürich to Lake Geneva via Lucerne, Interlaken and Gstaad is one of our favourite Swiss excursions by train.

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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.

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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.

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A tale of two Eltons

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 through the district in 1849, they judged Knocklong, just a couple of minutes up the line from Elton, as deserving of a station. So Elton, a little smaller than Knocklong, lost out.

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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.

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The cruellest month (Sweden)

"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 to milky cream, while the thaw makes forests utterly impenetrable.

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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.

Magazine article

Europe by Rail: Balkan images

by Nicky Gardner

hidden europe editors Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries showcase a new book which they have edited. Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers was published in March 2011. This well-established title from Thomas Cook Publishing now has a very new look, and here the editors present extracts from a Balkan rail journey that features in the book.

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Crossing the Kiel Canal

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 a route that happily included the Rendsburg bridge.

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Kicking off the New Year

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 beautiful kroon banknotes are consigned to currency history.

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Winter arrives in the Baltic

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 on Chatsworth or Versailles.

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Issue 200: the Jardin Villemin

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 the Jardin Villemin.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Kvarken life

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 were - after having been relieved of the burden of ice that covered the region during the last Ice Age.

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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.

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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.

Magazine article

A matter of Principalities

by Nicky Gardner

A pot-pourri of railway-related facts that you would never have guessed could ever be so interesting. We leap from Wales to Monaco, from Liechtenstein to Vatican City in search of a few railway records. Not just for geeks!

Magazine article

Europe's railways: public or private assets?

by Nicky Gardner

Across Europe, advocates for and opponents of the privatisation of national rail networks adduce arguments to support their preferred perspective. We compare the experience of different European countries, and find that the line between private and public operators is often more blurred than is widely believed.

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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.

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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.

Magazine article

Hungarian rhapsody

by Nicky Gardner

Sometimes we travel to really get somewhere. But occasionally a journey is worthwhile merely for its own sake. Sit back, relax, and from the comfort of a corner seat watch all the world go by on the train from Berlin to Budapest.

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Airport links

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 island's airport.

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Vorarlberg (Austria)

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 walkways that decant new arrivals onto the lakefront. Bregenz lies on the eastern shore of Lake Constance (the Bodensee in German) and is the most un-Austrian of Austrian cities.

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Bohemian borderlands

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 festive days is filled with folksy performances: singers and dancers, bagpipes and brass bands aplenty.

Magazine article

Switzerland: the Bernina connection

by Nicky Gardner

The small Swiss town of Pontresina once attracted many of Europe's literati. Today, the poets and philosophers have gone, yet Pontresina and the surrounding mountains are as exquisite as ever. The town's railway station is the jumping off point for the Bernina pass route to Tirano - arguably the finest train route from Switzerland to Italy.full article available online

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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.

Magazine article

On the night train

by Nicky Gardner

After the last of the daytime express trains have left, Europe's mainline railway stations play host to night trains. These are the trains which are the stuff of poetry. We explore some of the very best which the continent has to offer.

Magazine article

Belgian border business: Moresnet

by Nicky Gardner

The easternmost parts of Belgium are home to a linguistic minority that rarely gets a mention in the Flemish-Walloon debate. For here the lingua franca is German. The border region is full of curiosities as we find when we visit Moresnet and the Venn Railway.

Magazine article

Britain's weakest links

by Nicky Gardner

What do the English railway stations at Denton, Reddish South, Pilning and Teesside Airport have in common? The answer is that they have virtually no trains. Ghost trains, ghost stations and more as we review Britain's weakest links.

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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.

Magazine article

The slow train

by Nicky Gardner

evoking the flavour of a hot summer afternoon in the Bohemian hills, hidden europe takes the slow train from Liberec to Decí­n

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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.

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Abkhazia - the Adler connection

If Abkhazia were more secure and better promoted, it would surely be a holiday paradise to match anywhere in the Mediterranean. The area is spectacular with serene beaches backed by meadows, orchards and vineyards with - just a little further inland - wild mountain landscapes. At this time of year, the mountains are still draped in snow, but that does not deter locals heading up into the hills to go fishing in mountain lakes.

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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.

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New links across Schengen borders

The burden of having to show a passport at a border was never an onerous one (assuming you had an EU passport of course), but it still presented a psychological barrier. Now cross-border excursions for shopping or sightseeing are becoming ever more common. And Europe's new-found enthusiasm for border hopping is mirrored in a growing range of cross-border transport links.

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Russia's Baltic coast

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 Spanish sun and sangria, though only those with the strongest constitutions brave the chilly Baltic waters in late May.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Shrovetide frolics

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 for their holidays. From Matthew Arnold to Herbert Marcuse. Stefan Zweig was a regular, and discovered in Pontresina what he claimed were the best petits fours in the world.

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Val Müstair

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 transported across one of Europe's great hydrological divides.

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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.

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The Selwyn swastika

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.

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Salt harvesting in Piran Bay

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 open carriage windows. And then, after a long climb, just on the edge of the karst, the slow train stopped. The wind dropped, and for a moment, there was just the rasping sound of a lone cicada in the distance.

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Adriatic republics - a stop on the iron road

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 Republic of Poljica, a little independent fiefdom which, for several centuries, held sway over a dozen villages on the Dalmatian coast just southeast of Split, until it was swept away by Napoleon in 1807?

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Kosovo connections - Transdniestr

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 point for Serbian nationalists that will surely, for many in the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe, raise uncomfortable echoes of the past.

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La Brigue / Briga (French-Italian Border) - hidden europe 7

With all eyes on Turin and the Piedmont Alps this week, hidden europe escaped the glitz of the Winter Olympics and went off in search of some curiosities on the French-Italian border. It is a three hour journey down to the Mediterranean coast on the morning train that departs bang on time from Turin's monumental Porta Nuova station.

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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.

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Lutepää (Estonia) - nocturnal 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 summer scents of newly mown grass, and the apples in the little orchards that surround every home are beginning to fall.

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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.