The virtues of train travel when compared to flying are now obvious and they were recalled last year in a book review about train travel in Europe.
“Epic train journeys” is a book that draws attention to the pleasures and practicalities of train travel rail not just in Europe but across the world and turning its pages is guaranteed to provoke the reader into wanting to experience some of the routes described.
The book has only three routes in Africa and the same number for South America. The Sierra Verde Express, from Curitiba to Morretes in Brazil, using tracks laid down in the late 19th century as part of an unrealized rail network across the country, takes four hours to travel 67 kilometres –a languid journey through rainforest, through a dozen tunnels and over some 30 bridges– with howler monkeys and toucanets to be spotted in the passing foliage.
In Argentina, the Old Patagonian Express (La Trochita) still chugs its way from Esquel to Nahuel Pan using steam power on a narrow-gauge railway; a tourist train, yes, but one that everyone should ride on and one of the most evocative journeys covered in the book. The third route, The Andean Explorer, is also for tourists but strictly affluent ones.
Fourteen routes across parts of Asia are described, covering travel across Russia, China, Japan Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, India and Sri Lanka; six routes in North America; Australia and New Zealand two each and Europe has a dozen. Some routes, one suspects, have not been experienced by the author, like the 10-day chartered route in North Korea which may not be still available, and The Caledonian Sleeper between London and Inverness in Scotland.
I’ve travelled twice on this and the book’s text, over reliant on press releases perhaps, fails to mention the cabins’ cramped spaces, the unimpressive breakfasts and the likelihood of delays.
The strength and value of “Epic train journeys” is its ability to plant potentially new journeys in your mind, partly through the descriptions but also by the wealth of enticing photographs.
The same is true of “Slow escapes”, a guide not to rail routes but accommodation that has ‘traded the bustle of cities for the peace of remote and regional areas’. The entries are predominantly about hotels and guesthouses in Europe and, as with rail travel, the appeal is to travelling slowly and appreciating the experience rather than accumulating levels of consumption.
I haven’t stayed in any of the book’s places but reading about and looking at the pictures of them creates compelling itineraries for the future.
“Epic train journeys: The inside track to the world’s greatest rail routes”, by Monisha Rajesh, is published by Gestalten. “Slow escape: Rural retreats for conscious travellers” is also published by Gestalten.
(Cover photos supplied by the publisher)