What is Tourisme Grande Vitesse ?
This trip isn’t a world record for cities or countries visited in a given time, e.g with a 22 day InterRail pass. Guinness seem to claim the record is 30 countries in 6 days. I haven’t a clue how you might do that. It would surely have to be based in Europe and I don’t think I could concoct more than 48 hours at an average border crossing of one every 5 hours before being reduced to barely a country a day. I am aware of a number of reports of journeys which exceed ours in length. But they are all over a much longer time scale and have included numerous stop overs in excess of 24 hours. Other than Guinness’s preposterous claim that someone has travelled solely by rail to 30 counties in 6 days, I am unaware of anyone doing anything quite at this pace with some degree of style. i.e over 1,000 km and about 2 capital cities or as good as per day for over 2 weeks, and at least some off train exposure to every country. Including the main 47 trains of the route proper, we all made over 80 different journeys on trains, trams, metros, funiculars, buses, taxis and boats.
But anything definable in a world record can’t include points for things like visiting the Arctic circle, or quantify and accept the need for “cheating” and getting a bus from Fauske to Narvik, or Ploče to Split, in order to maintain convexity of the route. Two astonishingly beautiful bus rides. Nor can it evaluate the beauty or interest of numerous journeys through the Balkan Mountains, not to mention every yard of our trip through Switzerland. Nor can it value the geeky fun of the Rødby Puttgarden train ferry, and numerous super high speed trains, and not to mention every yard of our trip through Switzerland.
And it certainly can’t take into account how much patronage of the train bar has been achieved and varieties of local beverage sampled. Or how many different types of cheeses and salamis and insanely huge sandwiches that have been consumed.
And then there are my friends, for whom no calculation is possible. Without them there certainly wouldn’t have been a party. I have stopped short of publishing the x-ray of my back that the chiropractor took on my return. I look like Richard III. I had injured myself in an altercation with an ancient washing machine just before Christmas. I thought I was cured but perhaps through too much water carrying and heavy bag helping on and off trains, it gave way round about Markaska on the bus to Split. Without my buddies I fear I may not have managed all this on my Jack Jones. They have also documented the trip in wonderful words and pictures which I hope you’ve also enjoyed during my serialisation. Every single one of the pictures used in the account of the trip, including all the station place names, was taken by one of the group during the trip. We have thousands of photos on Flickr with which to remember our incredible journey. Thank you again guys.
This wasn’t a record attempt. It was a mobile party. One travelling at over 300 kmh at times, through night and day, over and under seas, right over mountains, and more mountains, to the extremes of Western Europe. Venice and Prague are undeniably two of the finest tourist destinations anywhere on the planet, and we had a good shot at both of them, as we did Lisbon and Budapest. And boy, did we do Switzerland justice ?.
It was the most fantabulastic railway ride I could devise to be executed in a time-scale and budget manageable by almost anyone. The participants, several of us familiar with epic railway rides, have all been profoundly affected by this particular adventure. Including Catalan in Barcelona, Basque at Irun/Hendaye, and Romanisch at St Moritz, we had 21 different local languages at stations we changed at to go with our 23 countries. That all translates to a spectacular kaleidoscope of our civilisation. We feel like we’ve seen the entire continent in an instant. The effect has been 18,000 kilovolts of culture shock and scenery overdose to go with the 18,000 kilometres of rail we covered in a fortnight and a bit (not to mention about 600 km of road).
This works. You need to plan, and psych yourself up. Because for sure, this isn’t intended to be a conventional kind of trip. But it works. You can do this brand of extreme rail tourism in other places, notably India and Japan where they have both the infrastructure to make an intensive trip possible and the rail pass to make it affordable. But only Europe can give, at least to this European’s eyes, ears and mouth, such a range of cuisine and climate, creed and culture, landscape and railway experience.
What is the next Tourisme Grande Vitesse ?
Japan is the next target network. Stay tuned for GCJRC in 2015. It is a spectacular country with fantastic railways. To paraphrase from, as you can imagine, one of my favourite films Trainspotting, it’s precision railways, and also it’s culture and especially it’s food, are custom f***ing designed for my needs. I will also return to my old friend India next year, where you can spend all of every day with the vestibule door wide open. If you have either been on any of my trips, or I know you, even if I haven’t seen you for decades, and you wanna do either of those epic countries TGV style with me, then get in touch ASAP. But I do not expect any railway trip I ever do to quite match what just happened in my native continent, which I now love more than ever.
To be continued ……