hidden europe 1

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

Europe's lesser known rail routes often warrant a visit in their own right. There is something truly remarkable about those glimpses into another world that the slow train sometimes affords. These are often the unsung railways, far from the InterCity networks. Here trains dawdle and stop at every wayside halt. Routes like the old Habsburg imperial railway route from Jesenice to Sezana in Slovenia. Once a main line that carried the Vienna to Trieste expresses, today this 130 km section of single track secondary railway transects some of Slovenia's most remarkable scenery. The route that runs west from Bilbao to Ferrol along the north coast of Spain is another classic. Poland and the Czech and Slovak Republics still offer the opportunity to get right off the beaten track on local trains. One hidden europe favourite is the tortuous route through the Carpathian mountains linking the Slovak town of Medzilaborce with the Polish town of Lupków, sadly now reduced to a summer only service (trains run in 2005 from 1 May to 2 October inclusive). The dense network of railways in northern Bohemia afford many leisurely opportunities for exploring hidden Europe, as the following account of a journey last summer shows.

Jiri joins the train at Zdislava, struggling to pull his rusting bike up into the old Czech railcar. He is old, just as the train is old. He is quick to strike up conversation on this, the slow train, the very slow train, that takes most of the afternoon to wend its way through the mountains of northern Bohemia from Liberec to Decín. It is hot, but not unbearably so, and the pace of the train, with its twenty nine stops en route, reflects the languid heat of this late summer afternoon.

Jiri is a mushroom collector, not by profession you understand, but today he has been mushroom collecting in the Luzické Hory, those great forested hills with occasional sharp peaks that lie just south of the Czech - German border. He asks where I am from, and complains, in faltering German, that it was not a good day for mushrooms, for it has been too hot and dry this past week. We speak a mixture of English and German, occasionally resorting to a pocket Czech dictionary.

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