Book review: ‘Europe by Rail’ by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

Comprehensive guide to travelling the continent by train gets a new look and publisher for its latest edition.

At first glance, the 15th edition of ‘Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide’ by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries (Hidden Europe, £15.99; ISBN 978 3 945225 01 1), the bestselling and highly unusual guidebook, looks both familiar and different. Familiar, because we have reviewed this title’s previous editions – all of which were released by Thomas Cook Publishing – in E&T. Different, because, for the first time, ‘Europe by Rail’ is published by Hidden Europe Publications, a Berlin-based firm established and run by the two knowledgeable and highly peripatetic authors themselves, who also edit and put together the ‘Hidden Europe’ quarterly magazine of which I have been a dedicated subscriber for many years.

With all due respect for the now-defunct Thomas Cook Publishing, I have to confess to being relieved that Gardner and Kries have taken publication in their own practised, well-travelled hands. The difference with previous editions is obvious from the cover, which, while preserving the habitual colour scheme, is somewhat neater and more eye-catching than the familiar Thomas Cook version.


There are changes inside the book too: new routes, much more graphic maps, and all timetables updated for travel in 2018. Gardner and Kries know a thing or two about train timetables, as regularly contributors to the highly regarded monthly ‘European Rail Timetable’, produced by the former compilers of the renowned ‘Thomas Cook European Train Timetable’.

This new edition should appeal in particular to members of the engineering profession, always defined by the two parameters of precision and creativity (or passion if you wish). ‘Europe by Rail’ is resplendent with both. While brimming with the latest thoroughly verified bits of information (not just train schedules, but also journey times, frequencies, distances etc), it is written with genuine gusto by the people who are not only extremely fond of travelling, but also happen to be accomplished stylists and writers.

In fact, I feel a bit awkward referring to ‘Europe by Rail’ as guidebook, because it is so much more than just that. Routes and timetables aside, it is a bloody good read, and I recommend it as such to E&T readers, who should be able to properly appreciate sentences like: “Eurostar re-engineers our travel horizons...” and “The Mitropa restaurant car is gone too, as is that slightly antiseptic smell which was a feature of East German railway carriages”.

The latter is taken from one of the multiple ‘Flashback’ panels – another regular feature of the book looking back at the past of European rail travel. I had a chance to ride in East German carriages (and to eat in a Mitropa restaurant car too, more than once) and can confirm that the dominating smell in them was indeed “slightly antiseptic”. It takes a real writer (or two) to find the exact words capable of bringing long bygone realities back to life. Precision engineering of literature, so to speak.

I wholeheartedly agree with the impressively well travelled authors when they claim on their website that, having travelled on “sleek TGVs and TCEs,” they are still “most at home when meandering on a slow train through Ukraine or on a humble local train in Bohemia,” and invite E&T readers to join them on that amazing slow train ride across Europe by placing ‘Europe by Rail’ in their own (or someone else’s) Christmas stocking. This delightful and informative paperback is just compact enough to fit in!

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