Saturday 12 October 2019

Slow Train to Switzerland

Finished September 28
Slow Train to Switzerland: One Tour, Two Trips, 150 Years -- and a World of Change Apart by Diccon Bewes

I liked the premise of this book, following in the footsteps of an earlier journey. Diccon Bewes is a British travel writer who lives in Switzerland, and during research he came across a diary from a young Englishwoman, Jemima Morrell, who, as part of a group who called themselves the Junior United Alpine Club, travelled on the very first Thomas Cook tour to Switzerland in 1863. The group consisted of four young women and three young men, and included Jemima's brother William, who paid for both of them.
Bewes determined to follow as much as possible in her footsteps, following the route she took, staying in the same places and visiting the same sights as much as possible. Near the beginning of the book is a map of the Cook tour from 1863 which took place from June 26th to July 15th, and included travel by rail, diligence, foot, mule, and steamship. With Thomas Cook the company that launched modern mass tourism, and by the time I finished the book going into bankruptcy, this book looks at travel from an interesting vantage point. Bewes took the trip with his mother, going back to certain points at a later date on his own.
Appendices include: a brief description of the world in 1863, and a timeline of that year showing some important events that occured; a summary, including data points of Switzerland in the 1860s with information on language spoken, size of towns, birth and death rates, wages and prices, and occupations; and descriptions and explanations on money of the time, both English and Swiss their modern equivalencies.
As he followed Jemima's journey, he and his mother read sections from the diary at each point in their journey, and while many of the lodgings that she stayed in no longer existed, a few did. Some sections of the journey are now done by train, where there weren't trains back then, and Jemima's journey definitely involved longer and more difficult travel times. Some of her days were exceedingly long, and many of the places she stayed didn't offer the modern conveniences now available.
Dewes shows the differences between the two experiences plainly, from the modes of travel, to the the time travelling took, to the things one was able to see at each point in the journey. He shows the huge changes that have taken place in the tourism industry in Switzerland, and talks about the drivers of those changes. He discusses changes to the physical environment, from the buildings and food on offer to the shrinking of the snow caps and glaciers. He follows up at the end with a look at what became of Jemima after this journey and the discovery of a personal connection to her family.
This was a fascinating and educational read, and hugely entertaining.

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