Are You Sitting Comfortably?

YOU MAY not know it, but there has never been a better time for poring over the minutiae of European train travel. Or - if you are photographer Clynt Garnham - "watching pictures" from out of train windows.

Why? Because this month marks the 125th birthday of the Thomas Cook European Train Timetable, an encyclopaedic work vital to anyone prone to asking questions like: "Should we pass through Amiens? Or should we change at Ventimiglia for the train to Pisa? And does the train from Bydgoszcz to Olsztyn carry second-class couchettes?"

As someone who has spent much of the last 20 years trundling along the rails of Europe taking pictures out of carriage windows, Garnham has been much occupied with such matters. He is inspired by the thought that nothing ties Europe up more convincingly than its network of rail tracks, which extends from Spain in the west to the Urals in the east. "You can be looking out of the train in rural Transylvania at an old man riding a donkey," he explains. "And then you'll realise that you are travelling on the same network as the high-speed service from Paris-to-Lyon. Or Barcelona- to-Madrid. Or Oslo- to-Copenhagen. It's like watching moving pictures."

Unbroken journeys connecting different parts of the continent are still highly feasible. The Thomas Cook timetable lists Brussels to Moscow on page 60, Malmo to Budapest on page 74, Dortmund to Florence on page 81 and Moscow to Thessaloniki on page 92.

It's border crossings that give these trips half their flavour. The Berlin Wall may have gone, but travelling east can still produce a suitably sinister tone, with barking Polish passport officers bursting in at the very moment you have finally managed to nod off to sleep, followed - as soon as you think it is safe to turn out the light - by their barking Ukrainian counterparts.

But on the rails, you do not just cross geographical borders. Clynt has also seen the changes in our trains reflecting the changes in our lives. "Take a look at the modern French and German trains, with their on-board telephones, airline-style seating, and silent air-conditioning," he says. "And then take at look at the east-European trains - slow, noisy things with friendly closed-compartment carriages."

Though friendly, these old carriages are sitting ducks for modern criminals, who can silently gas the compartments one by one before relieving the inhabitants of their belongings - one reason for their demise in the western part of the continent. But further east and south, the closed compartments live on. There it is: the conspiratorial arrangement of inward-facing seats, the black-and-white photographs of Swiss farmhouses, the Formica- topped table that slides out from under the window, always sticky with last week's vodka-spill. And there of course are the multi- lingual commands, phrased (depending on the country) as warnings, exhortations or pleas - not to lean out of the window, not to drink the water in the toilets or use the toilet when the train is in a station.

Which is another good measure of how things are changing. On SNCF trains these days the toilets - as fragrant, clean and private as the boudoir of a French society lady - have toilet paper, soap and razor sockets. You have to go further east to find flushing mechanisms comprised of a string which releases the contents of the toilet straight onto the tracks below. As for leaning out of the window - in the modern trains the windows don't even open anyway. So just stay in your seat. And watch the pictures. !


08.16 Koln-Dusseldorf-Duisburg-Oberhausen-Emmerich-Arnhem-Utrecht-Rotterdam 11.25


11.25 Milano Centrale-Monza-Como-Chiasso-Mendrisio-Capolago-Lugano-Pellinzona- Biasca-Faida-Airolo-Luzern-Sursee-Zofingen-Basel SBB16.46


08.30 Sofija-Mezdra-Pleven-Gorna-Ruse-Silistra-Giurgiu-Bucaresti Nord 17.22


19.36 Koln-Dusseldorf-Duisberg-Essen-Dortmund-Bielefeld-Hannover-Magdeburg- Frankfurt-(oder)-Rzepin-Pozan-Warszawa Central 06.27


06.35 Munchen-Mannheim-Frankfurt HBF 10.50


15.55 Basel SBB-Zurich-Thalwil-Pfaffikon-Ziegenbrucke-Saargans-Landquart- Chur-St Moritz 20.53


08.55 London Liverpool Street-Harwich International Port-Hoek Van Holland- Rotterdam- Den Haag-Amsterdam CS 17.28


01.15 Villach West BF-Rosenbach-Jesenice-Lesen-Bled-Kranj-Ljubljana-Zidanimost- Dobova-Zagreb 08.35

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