Falling Head Over Heels in Love Again: The Joy of Riding the Rails


These days even the most committed of rail enthusiasts is challenged to think other than darkly about Britain’s under-resourced and underfunded rail network where delays, cancellations and overcrowding are commonplace. Sadly I include myself in that dispirited band of weary British travellers, though the light of my love for rail travel outside these shores has never dimmed. How joyful it is then to see Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide on the shelves of bookstores actual and virtual, encouraging and enticing the forlorn to fall in love with riding the rails once more. And what a wonderful job this splendid and irresistible book does.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries are based in Berlin. Co-editors of hidden europe magazine, an independent publication promoting the continent’s cultures and communities often overlooked by the mainstream, where the journey is every bit as important as the destination, they now include Europe by Rail in their portfolio. This new 15th edition is the latest in a long line of authoritative texts stretching back more than 20 years. Formerly the domain of Thomas Cook Publishing, it has long been regarded as the definitive source of information for lovers of continental rail travel.

With this new edition Nicky and Susi not only honour that legacy in full, they also takes things to a new level. With a framework of 50 routes that criss-cross the continent, readers are encouraged to see the journey as so much more than a functional medium of conveyance from point A to point B. We are gently enticed to look beyond the landscape we see from the window as we pass by, to stop the world and get off and most important of all to observe, to enquire and to learn.

The continent of Europe is a vast land that is rich in diversity, history and culture. There are borders of course, yet this book teaches us to see borders not as obstacles, but instead as open doors to new and different experiences.

Its strongest feature is its multifunctionality. Thus a comprehensive package of common-sense information of a practical nature (timetabling, budgeting, getting the best deals, accommodation) sits side-by-side with sound advice and (most precious of all to my mind) a rich narrative that takes the mere descriptive into the realms of the travelogue. Because you see, there ain’t too much that these well-heeled meanderers don’t know about rail travel and about Europe.

This is travel for the sake of travel, where the journey itself is the destination, a philosophy beautifully articulated in the guide’s ‘Word of Welcome’ thus –

‘Some readers might try and undertake a dozen or more of these routes within a month. We would just sound a note of caution. That way madness lies. Better to focus a little, and take time to stop off here and there along the way. Savvy travellers nowadays realise that the journey is something to be savoured in its own right.”

Amen to that. Buy this book. Buy it and study its learned pages before you set off on your adventure. Build your adventure around it. Take it with you and keep it constantly by your side (you will want to refer to it often). You won’t find a more congenial travelling companion. Even if you have neither the inclination nor the intention ever to ride the rails of Europe for real, buy this book anyway. I can’t think of a finer way to pass a winter’s evening curled up by the fire with a glass of something special. Glorious adventures may be had without leaving your front door, in which case this lovely book will take you gently by the hand and show you where to find them.

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide (paperback £15.99), authors Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, published by hidden europe publications, 512pp, 98 colour illustrations, ISBN: 978 3 945225 01 1


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