hidden europe 15

Speed dining: train fare

by Nicky Gardner


It is possible to happily munch one's way round Europe. Train restaurant cars sometimes offer a few surprises. We review train dining from Finland to Hungary, Scotland to Switzerland.

There is a scene in DH Lawrence's novel Women in Love, when the story's two male protagonists, Rupert and Gerald, stand at a railway station and ponder whether they should buy first or third class tickets to London. Yes, there was a time when trains in England had third class carriages. "Third'll be all right," says Gerald. "There's a restaurant car and we can have some tea." Almost a hundred years later, savvy travellers are still playing the same neat trick. For on many European long distance trains, the restaurant car is the most comfortable spot on the train. Not quite the quiet seclusion of the first class carriage perhaps, where men in suits play with their laptop computers, but a more homely spot - oftentimes with curtains and table-lamps, the smell of coffee and the buzz of quiet conversation.

It is as if in the train is somehow tamed in the restaurant, made more personal and appropriated into the domestic sphere. The anxiety of travel is assuaged in a space that, at its best, has the comforts of your dining room at home As we learn from literature, the restaurant car is not without attendant dangers. Richard Hannay, the narrator of John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps, didn't dare face the restaurant car on his journey to Scotland - presumably more on account of the German spies pursuing him than because of any misgivings about the quality of the fare on offer. In other thrillers, both novels and films, the restaurant car is the focus for some or even all of the action: just think of Graham Greene's Stamboul Train or Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express.

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