Category Archives for "Uncategorized"

Feb 11

Can we travel Europe by train in 2021?

By Edward | Coronavirus , Uncategorized

Remember 2020? Back when we were all "well in 2021 I will be travelling Europe by train again"?

How are those plans looking?

In this post we are going to examine the outlook for European train travel in 2021.

We can't look into the future, but we can look at signs and describe tendencies.

  • Half-arsed lockdowns across Europe have not dented the second wave of Covid, though they have probably prevented it from being even worse
  • Mutated variants of the virus have emerged, making travel restrictions fashionable again.

On 21st January the leaders of the European Union met to discuss borders and travel. They agreed to the following recommendations to member states:

  1. The internal borders in the Schengen zone are to remain open
  2. Leisure travel is to be discouraged
  3. Only essential cross-border travel is to be allowed.
  4. No exemptions for those inoculated against Covid.

What has happened since then?

  1. Most EU countries have closed their borders
  2. Leisure travel is restricted to day trips at home
  3. Each country has its own definition of "essential"
  4.  Some countries have opened their borders for those with Covid jabs.

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Here are 5 factors likely to affect 2021 European train travel:


Each European country has its own take on Covid risk areas, and its own set of rules on who has to do what entering from where. Furthermore, these rules change every few weeks. It is impossible to keep up with it.

This is a strong incentive to stay either in your own country, or to visit one particular country and stay put for longer.


European politicians are scrambling to contain mutations of coronavirus, such as the British and the South African variants. As I write, the Tirol is under strict lockdown and nobody is allowed to leave unless they have a negative test. Meanwhile, in Britain most infections are now with the British variant.

This suggests that massive travel restrictions are still going to be with us in 2021.

Train to Prague

Somewhere in winter Czechia (© Martin Pavlík)

Covid jabs

Covid vaccinations are being rolled out across the world. As more and more people have had their jab, they are going to start demanding back their unrestricted travel. 

As the ranks of the vaccinated increase, we will almost certainly be looking at some form of...

Covid passports

You know they are going to happen because of all the politicians loudly rejecting them. 

Countries that tend not to overthink ethical dilemmas, such as Poland and Georgia, have gone ahead. Anyone with proven Covid immunity can come to Poland or Georgia without going into quarantine. Come spring, the likes of France and Italy will follow.

Unless it turns out that the vaccines don't protect against the new variants of Covid, or that the vaccinated can still infect the un-vaccinated.  Then we are back to square one.

Serious Facekit

If we do set off, we are still going to need our face-masks.

The rules about face-masks are likely to get stricter. Bavaria recently raised the bar and insists on FFP-2 masks on all public transport, while in the rest of Germany it has to be at least a medical mask. France, too, demands proper medical masks and not just a scarf or handkerchief. 

Expect other countries to follow suit. Even Sweden now "recommends" face masks "during rush hour".

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4 ways to get your fix (now)

Embrace your own country


What's not to love?

If you seriously want to go on some train journeys, you may have to make do with your own country as restrictions ease. 

Why not get out a map of your country and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes? Think: If I had to stay in England (or Belgium, or wherever) what would I like to see by train?

Explore local trains

Berlin S-Bahn

Just get on the wrong train on purpose

Local trains are going to be key. I discussed this with Nicky Gardner at our webinar last year, and 2021, even more than 2020, is a year to discover local trains.

What is exciting about local trains is how much closer they are to the country they are passing through and the people they serve. I once went from Munich to Venice on local trains and the memory of it is vivid because of how quickly everything changed - the people, their language and their faces.

So how about going right now and finding yourself a local branch line to use, as soon as restrictions ease? Even a different line on the London Overground or the Berlin S-Bahn can be exciting. 

Just get on the wrong train on purpose

Rural travel

Local train tickets italy

Ferrovie del Sud Est railbus at Otranto

Avoiding crowds and big centres is still a thing. If you do manage to go abroad, consider one of the less hyped destinations, or somewhere completely unheard-of. 

In their take on travel in 2021, the Economist pointed to fewer, but longer stays. Once in a particular country, there is much incentive to stay there because of quarantine rules. 

So if you get to plan something, and want to do train stuff, find somewhere with a good station and a decent timetable.

Read Europe by Rail

This is the easiest and safest way to get your fix.

Though it covers 50 routes throughout Europe, Europe by Rail is very strong on local and rural travel. Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries have found the most interesting and gratifying train journeys for almost every European country.

Why not wander over to my review of Europe by Rail and have a look?

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11 Soundtracks for your Russian Train Journey
Mar 20

11 Soundtracks for Your Russian Train Journey

By Edward | Uncategorized

11 Soundtracks for your Russian Train Journey

So you are now on a Russian train.

Had enough of all the talking and eating and listening? Perhaps time for some you-time, yes?

This is something I hadn't the cojones to put into my guest post on Miss Tourist.

I wanted to have a chapter with lots of different Russian music for you to listen to on your journey, as you travel from city to city, to help immerse you in Russian culture. Well here it is. For each Russia 2018 host city I have chosen something for you to listen to.

You are unlikely to like all of it - I've deliberately delved into old and new music, some of it more arcane, some of it less so. I've also striven to reflect that there are other nations in Russia apart from the Russians.


Let's ease ourselves into this with some light Mussorgsky. Dawn on the Moskva River is the introduction to Mussorgsky's opera Khovanshchina. When Mussorgsky died, this opera was an unfinished heap of papers that had to be straightened out and completed by his friend and mentor Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.


Kazan is the ancient capital of the Tatars, originally a nomadic tribe from Central Asia. They were feared throughout Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages, when they made it as far as Poland.

The Tatar language is related to Turkish and the Tatars are mainly Muslim. Famous Russian ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Irek Mukhamedov are Tatars. Here is a Tatar pop song by Guzelem and Salavat Minnekhanov, in Tatar.

Saint Petersburg

Imagine the Russian aristocrats dancing to these waltzes in the salons of Petrograd, unaware of their imminent fate.

Standard waltzes of the Strauss and Lehár kind have several happy themes with one sad one embedded - Russian waltzes are the other way round: unhappy themes with one happy moment. 

My favourite, Autumn Dream, (49'20") is actually by an Englishman, Archibald Joyce. In England no one knows this piece any more, but in Russia every schoolchild can whistle it. 


Time for a war song. This is one of the most famous. It makes my eyes sweat terribly. It is the song of a lonely soldier in a dark night, listening to the whistling of bullets and longing for the tenderness of his wife. Here is a full translation. Volgograd is the erstwhile Stalingrad, the battle of which was the turning point of the Second World War.

Soviet war songs are nearly all about individual suffering. I cannot think of one that celebrates how great war is.


Rostov-on-Don is in southern Russia, near Ukraine. This is Cossack territory. The Cossacks are a people that drew mainly on eastern Slavic stock in the Russian Empire's southern borderlands. They also absorbed elements from the mountain cultures of the Caucasus. 

It shows in this song by Otava Yo, in which they use a beat that many of the tiny Caucasus nations use in their music. Otava Yo are a bizarre group that make wildly gripping music and wonderfully imaginative videos. Do look at their other videos.


Sochi is even further south on the Black Sea. I thought for ages about what to put here and settled on some Circassians or Adiga dancing the dzhegu, more commonly called the lezginka in Russian.

In the 1860s, while in America the Indians were being driven off their land and the British were plundering India, the Russians were busy ethnically cleansing the Circassians from the Sochi area. To this day there are Circassians all over the world, mainly in Turkey, but also in the Balkans, and even in America. 

Now the Circassians have their own autonomous Republic of Adigeya within Russia.

Nizhny Novgorod

One of the host cities on the Volga river. The Volga is an integral part of Russia and Russianness, soul and artery at the same time. There are countless songs and poems celebrating the Volga. Here is one of them, sung by Lyudmila Zykina. This video also shows admirably what music videos were like in the 1960s in the Soviet Union.


For Kaliningrad I've chosen music from Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 film Alexander Nevsky, written by Sergei Prokofiev. Both men had recently returned to the Soviet Union after emigrating and now had to produce something that pleased Stalin. Both succeeded. Not only did Stalin love it, but to this day the co-operation of Eisenstein and Prokofiev is considered a milestone both in cinematic and musical history.

Alexander Nevsky tells of the war of Novgorod against the Teutonic order, a state of German crusader knights that dominated the Baltic in the Middle Ages. Königsberg, today's Kaliningrad, was once their capital.


Ekaterinburg is the only Russia 2018 host city in Asia - just across the Urals. To reflect the nearby mountains and its former seclusion as a closed city, plus its history of making ICBMs, for Ekaterinburg I've chosen some electronic music from 1980, Morning in the Mountains by Vladimir Martynov. It sounds like the soundtrack of a nuclear winter. What people got up to with a synthesiser under communism, with only state- but no market censorship, was insane. I don't do electronic music, but this I love.


I looked hard for something interesting in Mordovian, the language of the Republic of Mordovia of which Saransk is the capital, but found nothing that fits. Instead I have found something lovely played on the gusli, an ancient instrument more Russian than the balalaika and native to Russians and Finno-Ugric nations like the Mordvins.


Another Volga city, and the last of the Russia 2018 host cities. I'm going to let you go with the famous Song of the Volga Boatmen, sung by the Red Army Choir. 

I've really enjoyed compiling this post. When you go on a Russian train, I hope some of this music will accompany you and become part of the memory.

If you haven't got plans for going on a Russian train, I hope these soundtracks give you a bit of the feeling.