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Railway reads


Background image: © Grungemaster / dreamstime . com; book cover courtesy of the publisher.

Background image: © Grungemaster / dreamstime . com; book cover courtesy of the publisher.

With spring days, there is a natural inclination to want to head out and explore. Not that travelling is too easy just now (nor generally encouraged). So we make do with a pile of good travel books and a comfy chair in the garden. We have a copy of the European Rail Timetable to hand, a few maps and our imagination.

Tom Chesshyre’s writing about rail journeys is always very engaging, and we’ve returned time and again to his Slow Trains to Venice (published by Summersdale in 2019). You have to respect a man who travels from the London suburb of Mortlake to Venice via an extremely circuitous route that takes in Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. Over 6,000 kilometres in all. We warm to Tom of course because he says nice things about us in Slow Trains to Venice. Indeed, we are humbled by his references to us as “the legendary Gardner and Kries.”

No surprise therefore that we’ll be first in line to buy a copy of Slow Trains Around Spain which is published on Thursday 8 April (also from Summersdale). Tom was kind enough to give us a sneak preview of this new book when it was still at draft stage, and we can reveal that it really is a wonderful read. Definitely one for anyone who has missed the sheer enjoyment of sitting on the slow train and watching the landscape slip by beyond the window. It’s a fabulous piece of travel escapism.

Slow Trains to Venice and Slow Trains Around Spain are both available from all good bookshops – just as all good books should be. Not all publishers see it that way. We recently ran across a small British publisher called Thrust Books, which quite bizarrely doesn’t let bookshops sell its books. The only way to buy a Thrust title is to go to Amazon. And that’s a pity because Thrust’s star writer is the inimitable and ever-entertaining Vitali Vitaliev. Vitali deserves to be in every bookshop.

The front cover of Vitali’s latest book shows the author relaxing in a Swiss first-class railway carriage – a nice nod to his good taste and sense of style. This latest offering from Vitali Vitaliev (who is much more legendary than we’ll ever be) is called The Bumper Book of Vitali’s Travels: 30 years of Globe-Trotting; it was published by Thrust in January 2021. As the title hints, it is a sort of valedictory volume, gathering together some previously published work but also with some new material. Vitali is in the premier league of prolific travel writers, and is a fine raconteur. He has visited us here in Berlin and reading his latest book reminded us how he sat at our dining room table and told extraordinary tales of his rail journeys around Europe. He is the only other person we know who sleeps with a copy of the European Rail Timetable beside his bed.

Take it from us. Vitali has been everywhere. Even to places without trains. And the new bumper book escorts us to rail-less communities like Samnaun in Switzerland (relying on a mountain chairlift and crawling on all fours), Rottnest Island in Australia (bicycle and submarine) and the small Caribbean island of Nevis, where Vitali digs out traces of Jewish migrants who moved from Portugal in the 17th century. It is that eye for the unusual, the unexpected, which is the hallmark of Vitali’s writing. It makes for perfect reading in these spring days when we are all still staying to home.

Copyright © Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries. All rights reserved.
hidden europe
About The Authors

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

Nicky and Susanne manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers and the authors of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide. The 17th edition of that book was published in 2022 and reprinted in July 2023. You'll find a list of outlets that sell the book on this website.


Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, 6 April 2021

Interesting comments there by Jonathan and Hannah. We are loathe to comment on the specific distribution arrangements which an author may have chosen for her or his books. Tom Chesshyre has gone with Summersdale, which distributes through the book trade, while Vitali Vitaliev has opted for an arrangement with Thrust and very limited distribution channels. But it could well be that each is a perfectly sane and logical decision for that particular author. What we have found, when it comes to our book EUROPE BY RAIL: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE is that the book trade has been our strongest ally in marketing the book and getting copies sold. We have worked with a first class distributor and are immensely grateful to all who have made it possible to make our book so widely available. Only a small minority of total sales are through Amazon. Hope that thought helps. S&N

Hannah Jones, 6 April 2021

I think Jonathan's point is key. Thrust are not a publisher in the normal sense of the word. I have some of Vitali's books, all excellent, but there's probably not been the editorial process that you get with a publisher like Summersdale, under whose imprint Tom's books appear. As a bookseller, I see the difference in the quality of the product. Though of course Vitali's writing compensates for a lot. It's hard to see what Thrust are bringing to the party.

Jonathan, 5 April 2021

Thanks for the tips, they look like great books. Is it possible Thrust Books doesn't actually *print* any books, but instead rely on some kind of Amazon-internal print-on-demand system?

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