.............................................................................................................................................................................
GREAT RAILWAY JOURNEYS - THANK GOD FOR EUROPE!

It's not often I review a book, but I have to review this one: "EUROPE BY RAIL: The Definitive Guide" by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, 15th edition, Nov. 2017.

This is a beautifully produced paperback, with inside cover flaps you can use as bookmarks, clearly not made on the cheap.

It offers 50 suggested routes you might not have considered yourself, each taking you through striking parts of Europe, and each properly rail-tested by the authors, from 'Exploring the French Riviera' to 'Through Balkan Byways to Greece', and from 'Through Poland to Ukraine' to 'Across the Alps: Bavaria to Northern Italy'.

In every case there's up-to-date info on how to take the slow route; where to break your journey overnight; how long each section will take... and which side of the train to sit for the significant views. There are also quite substantial asides (on pink backgrounds) on, for example, Kosovo, languages of Vojvodina, the Alps by bus, orthodoxy in Finland, the Aland Islands ("Although part of the European Union, this scatter of islands lies outside the EU's fiscal regime - a little accounting curiosity..."), "the wandering Arctic Circle", and Rhine versus Moselle.

At the back there's a 60+ page gazeteer covering 48 European countries and telling you about their currencies, time zones, languages, types of electric socket and more; and at the front there are glossy photographs showing, for example, that "enthusiasm for Soviet-style memorials has not waned in Belarus" and that "steam-hauled trains are still seen every day in the Harz Mountains in eastern Germany". There are also maps, thoughtful advice about tickets and rail-passes, stations worth a visit in their own rights, and an enormous amount more besides. And an index.

One of the great virtues of this book, and a key to its being so enjoyable to read (even when no real journey is planned), is that it's well written - which makes it a rarity among practical guidebooks. It reminds me, in this way, of the Cadogan Guides of the 1980s-90s written by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls. They too had a relish for alert, vivid prose free of travel-hack cliche and addressed with generosity of spirit to readers assumed to be open-minded and interested.

In the end, taking in "Europe By Rail" without taking myself around Europe by rail, it's hard not to be mournfully wistful about all the places I've never been, all the rails not travelled. (It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry, perhaps.) But it's also a powerful reminder of the cacophanous splendour of Europe itself - a continent so compact yet so riddled with infinitely varied quirks, beauty, age and elan. This book replenishes the feeling those of us who've spent time in Los Angeles or Newfoundland always tend to harbour: thank god for Europe.

No comments:

Post a comment