Letter from Europe

From Burmese pythons to Christmas gifts

Issue no. 2021/19

Picture above: Image © Tiff20 / dreamstime.com


We don’t know about you, but for us these long months of the pandemic have been salvaged by flights of fancy. Burmese pythons apart, places have especially fuelled our imagination.

Dear fellow travellers

A day or two ago, we discovered more than we really needed to know about the innards of a Burmese python. Witnessing a dissection is not something we do every day. This particular dissection was conducted over the airwaves in a radio documentary. The choice of medium, it has to be said, left a lot to the imagination. The result was especially fine listening.

We don’t know about you, but for us these long months of the pandemic have been salvaged by flights of fancy. Burmese pythons apart, places have especially fuelled our imagination.

What would it have been like to be in Trieste in the autumn (as we had planned)? COVID subverted our best laid plans in that case. So we stayed at home and read the late Jan Morris’ wonderful Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere – a book that nicely reminds us, each time we turn to it, that a place imagined may sometimes be even more captivating than a place in reality.

The COVID interregnum has given free reign to the imagination which runs wild through mythical or distant, half-imagined territories. What if we were really on the slow train through Mahoroba or Moldova today? Or exploring a mythical city? Jan Morris’ Venice, much like her Trieste, is a city of illusory reflections, of mirages and of hallucinations. Venice’s “crotchety splendour” seen through the eyes of Jan Morris is somehow even better than the real Venice.

Take a moment to consider what it’s like for travel publishers who cannot actually travel as much as normal. In truth, we have travelled quite a bit in 2022, but not as much as we might have wished. We went to Cantal, followed artists to Barbizon, slipped through the Ardennes and stopped off in the ancient province of Moray – the latter one of those elusive territories, the borders of which have morphed through time. But there should have been so many other journeys: that long weekend in Trieste, a spell in Slovakia, a Swiss reprise and a small Dutch adventure.

But no… these didn’t happen, so we stayed at home and read about Trieste, then listened in on that dissection of the Burmese python, simultaneously admiring the creativity of radio producers while shedding a tear for the python.

Are you still thinking about Christmas gifts? If so, then might we humbly suggest that a subscription to hidden europe, possibly augmented by a small selection of back issues of the magazine, makes a perfect gift. Indeed, it is calculated to fire the imagination – and that surely is what we all need in these pandemic times when we are so cruelly deprived of travel. And stirring the imagination is perhaps a good prelude to real travels in 2022.

You can check out what we have to offer in our online shop. All orders will be shipped pronto, so as to up the chance of pre-Christmas delivery. We also have a few signed copies of our book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide, which will allow you to vicariously travel with us from the Atlantic shores of Europe to Sicily, Serbia and Sweden.

We take this moment to wish everyone blessed and peaceful Christmas days. And just add the thought that we were surprised to learn just how long are the lungs of the Burmese python.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

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