Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

hidden europe 20

by Nicky Gardner

awardThis article was awarded the British Guild of Travel Writers prize for the best short feature published in 2008.

Brcko is one of those places that lie at the heart of hidden europe. When we visited this small Bosnian town recently, we were amazed to find that the train to Croatia only runs in warm weather!

article summary —

A three-legged dog scuttles past the Pirana fast food joint with a chicken leg in its mouth. The ragged mongrel settles in the tattered dark of a long abandoned telephone kiosk to make the most of a free meal. The storks will be back any day now. As will the train. At least that's what they say here.

Only the slow train comes to Brcko. When it comes at all, the train dawdles down the Tinja valley, hopping to and fro across the river on its way to the plains of Posavina. Along the valley there are old fortresses like the weathered ramparts that tower on a rocky buttress at Srebrenik. Slow, slow wanders the train, past minarets and mosques, out onto the plains where women dressed in black work in fields that are as neat as a grave on the day of its digging. There are plum trees and pear trees, half-built churches and telegraph poles that wait for the new season's storks.

Who knows if the train ever actually comes to Brcko. "Not during the heating season," says the man who is affixing a death notice to a lamp post outside the station. Seventy years of life summed up in a little green-rimmed notice with a picture of a woman and a few lines announcing her death last night.

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Nicky Gardner is editor of hidden europe and also the principal author of the magazine. Where a text is not specifically attributed to an author, it is the work of Nicky. Below, you’ll find a small selection of her articles in hidden europe magazine. Nicky also writes regularly for other media. She is co-author (with Susanne Kries) of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide, the 17th edition of which was published 2022.

Nicky Gardner was liberated from a life enslaved to performance indicators and business plans to become a travel writer. She gives thanks for that daily. Nicky writes about culture and communities, about memorable landscapes and also about journeys. Over the years she's picked up a thing or two about product life cycles, the book trade and publishing, ticketing APIs, how libraries work and the high theology of grant giving.

Nicky reads geography books, railway timetables and maps entirely for pleasure - and lots of real books too! She loves nothing more than a slow meander by public transport around some unsung part of Europe. Nicky is particularly interested in issues of identity and culture in eastern Europe and the Balkans, in linguistic minorities and in island communities. Her pet loves are public libraries, Armenian food and anything coloured purple. Nicky cannot abide suburban sprawl, supermarkets and fast trains. Nicky has since 2007 been a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. Nicky is especially keen on historical travel writing: Edith Durham, Gertrude Bell and Isabelle Eberhardt are among her favourites. Nicky can be contacted at editors [at] hiddeneurope.eu.

This article was published in hidden europe 20.