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Slow Trains – to Switzerland & Venice

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

In fact Diccon Bewes claims to have just taken one slow train on his Swiss jaunt (in fact there were quite a few) while Tom Chesshyre happily confesses to riding lots of them on his oh-why-are-we-doing this pre-Brexit tour of Europe.

Not all of Tom Chesshyre’s train rides in Slow Trains to Venice are slow, it seems to be impossible to find a slow train (or slow anything else) in Germany, but plenty of them are. On his pre-Brexit tour of everything Britain might be losing Tom finds the same response almost everywhere he goes: Why on earth did you do this? We wish you hadn’t. But also the same questions seem to worry his slow train fellow travellers everywhere he goes: the impact of immigration is certainly one of them and wasn’t that a big factor for the Brexit movement?

En route to Venice Tom starts from London, dips into France, then crosses Belgium, a corner of the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, into Ukraine and down to Odessa (a favourite destination for me last year) before heading back through Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria before turning south into Italy to conclude at Venice. Quite a European tour.

Diccon Bewes’ Slow Train to Switzerland follows three stories. First there’s Jemima Morrell’s 1863 exploration of Switzerland, a story traced through the meticulous diary she kept of her travels. Second there’s the Thomas Cook story, Jemima and her fellow Junior United Alpine Club travellers were pioneer participants in Thomas Cook’s first Swiss adventures, the major stepping stone to the company becoming a tourist business giant. The third element is Switzerland itself, at the time a brand new republic and very far from today’s smugly affluent Alpine nation. Back in 1863 Switzerland was mainly rural and often quite impoverished, certainly nowhere near as wealthy as Britain.

Today, of course, Switzerland’s financial bottom line is way healthier than Britain’s and it’s Chinese who are the big tourist numbers, not the British.

Looking back to 1863 it’s remarkable how much easier travel has become, Miss Morrell and her fellow Alpine Club members are hardy travellers compared to today’s pampered tourist softies. It’s also remarkable how far up the mountains so many Swiss glaciers have retreated, certainly the inhabitants of Grindelwald are no longer worried that their village could be ‘crushed by the advancing ice.’

Slow Trains – to Switzerland & Venice

21 May 2019 | Culture

In fact Diccon Bewes claims to have just taken one slow train on his Swiss jaunt (in fact there were quite a few) while Tom Chesshyre happily confesses to riding lots of them on his oh-why-are-we-doing this pre-Brexit tour of Europe. Not all of Tom Chesshyre’s trai...

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8 May 2019 | Culture

American photographer Taryn Simon spent a week at New York City’s Kennedy Airport photographing items confiscated from arriving passengers or at the post office where arriving mail is inspected. Contraband uses 1075 of those photographs and having done a circuit of No...

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Paris & Notre Dame

16 April 2019 | Places

▲ Looking past a gargoyle from the Notre Dame tower across the Seine and Left Bank towards the Eiffel Tower In 1996 I lived in Paris for the whole year and most days walked from our apartment on Rue Saint-Paul in the Marais across the Seine River to the Lonely Plan...

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Victoria’s Silo Art Trail

15 April 2019 | Places

Head out to the north-west of the Australian state of Victoria and you come to a lot of flat farmland, dotted with a scatter of small towns – country towns in the Australian parlance. The area is known as the Mallee and part of it as the Wimmera. They’re regions that ...

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Deep South – Four Seasons on Back Roads

3 April 2019 | Media

Books by Paul Theroux are always more readable when Mr Theroux is unhappy – grumpy even – and in Deep South he finds plenty to be annoyed about. It’s unusual for a Theroux book – a fact that he points out more than once – that it isn’t a linear (or circular) journey, ...

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Melbourne’s Pink Lake

2 April 2019 | Places

Late last year I travelled by boat from Esperance in Western Australia out to Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago to see its famous (if little visited) pink Lake Hillier. Why did I bother, right now I can drive to Melbourne’s equally pink lake in 15 minutes or ...

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Islands in Sydney Harbour

28 March 2019 | Places

My next book, Tony Wheeler’s Islands of Australia, is coming from the National Library in Canberra in October. Working on this title has certainly extended my knowledge about Australia’s 8222 islands and I’ve managed to visit quite a few more of them. I’ve reported re...

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Cyprus Avenue, Cyprus Avenue again, Say Nothing

25 March 2019 | Media

▲ Back in 2015 I went to Belfast to see Van Morrison perform Cyprus Avenue – his wonderful  1968 track from Astral Weeks – on Cyprus Avenue. I’d already seen him run through Astral Weeks, that classic favourite, at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2009. In 2015 it w...

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The 737 Max, Compromised Design, the FAA, déjà vu & perhaps 346 is the Magic Number

22 March 2019 | Transport

There’s a lot of talk about the causes of the two 737 Max crashes – Lion Air on 29 October 2018 (157 deaths) and Ethiopian Airlines on 10 March 2019 (189 deaths). Two thoughts and one case of déjà vu, that handy French expression which means ‘we’ve been here before.’ ...

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More Aerial Views

16 March 2019 | Transport

Flying from Dubai to Baku in Azerbaijan late last year a wonderful view of Iran’s snow-capped Mt Damavand popped up in my Fly Dubai 737 window. ▲ A few months later (ie just a week or two ago), flying from London to Singapore there it was again, this time I was fly...

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