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The growth of budget airline travel has inspired a few great travel books in recent years. Philip Norman’s Ryanland charts a fun experiment in visiting all of those obscure cities on the Ryanair routemap which you can get to for the price of a round in the pub and Tom Chesshyre, staff travel writer for the Times, has written one himself, How Low Can You Go? Europe from £1 Returns.
That same writer applies very similar thinking to a new book, Tales from the Fast Trains: Europe at 186 mph and it’s a rare and welcome delight. I can’t think of too many great books about rail travel to have been published in recent years, let alone ones with such an original and compelling premise.
Over a series of weekends Tom sets out to conquer Europe, one high speed train at a time and in the process uncovers some gems from the other side of the tracks. Tom’s quest leads him to discover the bleeding edge fashions of Antwerp and the Marxist pilgrimage site of Trier. At the more surprising end of scale you’ll find contemporary architects’ playground that is Rotterdam and a tour through the seedy back streets of the otherwise buttoned down, bankers’ haven of Frankfurt.
Along the way much wine is sloshed back, hotels of varying quality are poked around in and a fair bit of railway history – and the massive impact it had on much of Europe’s economic and social development – is made accessible.
It’s all conveyed at a leisurely pace – no rigorous ticking off of guidebook sights – with a tangible sense of ‘the adventure on your doorstep.’ Tom’s an instantly likeable virtual travel companion. He writes in an honest, unpretentious and occasionally meandering style, full of gentle wonder at the hidden treasures uncovered in some of the less likely places. He’s not above taking a city tour or ‘doing something obvious’ like popping into Dijon’s Maille Mustard shop-cum- museum.
In places it can feel a little padded though. You get the feeling that a few of the chapters might make better magazine articles and some of the smug exchanges with his girlfriend and occasional travel partner can grate a little at times, but these niggles aside, it really is a cracking narrative which should hopefully ignite light bulbs in the minds of many a traveller wanting a quick and painless weekend escape.
Tales From the Fast Trains is out now and published by Summersdale Press.
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