We are delighted to introduce a female author to our list of Recommended Railway Reads. Over three months, freelance journalist Lorraine Wilson, travelled solo through Europe by train, stopping at 57 destinations in 21 countries and covering 11,500 miles. The result was her delightful book, "Facing Forwards: Europe. Solo. No Looking Back". This railway and life-changing odyssey followed in the footsteps of a financial meltdown, heartbreak, bereavement, and poor health over the previous five years. At the age of 48, single, childless and having sold her home Lorraine was struggling to decide where her life was heading. In the end the best thing to do, she thought, was to head off into the unknown! Facing Forwards is the result - not a conventional travel book, but a journey of self-discovery over one summer with lots of memorable encounters along the way. Below is an excerpt from the book which finds Lorraine in Slovakia and, like most of her journey, chronicles her experiences off the rail tracks as well as on them.
Ffestiniog Travel blog
Many of you will be familiar with Ffestiniog Travel’s team members, having liaised with them when planning and booking your rail holidays and train journeys with us. Some of you may have met them face to face as tour leaders, as several have escorted our train tours. Some of the team have been furloughed and others have been busy working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown, fulfilling refund obligations, dealing with suppliers and planning tours for 2021. We thought it would be a good idea to check in with them and find out a little more about what inspires them and their favourite places to visit around the world. Some have been with the company for many years and have benefitted from its in-house training opportunities and moved up the ranks to take on more travel responsibilities – a reward for their continued expertise and dedication to Ffestiniog Travel and its customers. We asked them some broad questions, ranging from their favourite rail journey to their favourite book and meal, so we could give you a little snapshot of the people who help make your rail holiday dreams come true!
For our third instalment of our Recommended Railway Reads we have the pleasure of sharing an excerpt from ‘On the Slow Train’ by best-selling author Michael Williams, which takes you to the very beginning of the book and finds the author at the remotest railway junction in the most westerly part of England! The success of this book led Michael to write a follow-up On the Slow Train Again and his other notable railways reads include Steaming to Victory and The Trains Now Departed. Michael is a journalist and academic – writing, broadcasting and blogging on transport, society, the media and other issues of the day for the national media and many other outlets, including the Independent, the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, and the New Statesman. Michael is also a leading travel writer, reporting on journeys around the world for a variety of publications. In his academic role, he is co-editor and author of the book The Future of Quality News Journalism. He lives with his family in Camden Town, London. Here is Ffestiniog Travel’s introduction to his work.
As the world of travel and holidays takes a breather during the COVID-19 crisis we thought we would catch up with some of Ffestiniog Travel’s tour leaders and invite them to share some memories and thoughts of their tour leading travels with us. It also provides an opportunity for our regular customers and new travellers to get an insight into their world of escorting passengers to destinations around the globe. We sent each tour leader some guided questions to answer and the result is this interesting blog in which they outline their own personal experiences in the first person. Find out about their favourite Ffestiniog Travel tour, top places to visit, some funny travel anecdotes and what it takes to be an effective tour leader!
Welcome to the first in a series of Recommended Railway Read blogs, where we invite you to delve into an excerpt from our chosen book to see if it piques your train travel interest. During this time of COVID-19 enforced lockdown we thought you might enjoy some armchair travel courtesy of a good railway read!
As an expert rail tour operator Ffestiniog Travel will always advocate train travel as the best way to see more of a country at ground level within the timeframe of a typical holiday. If you factor in the environmental impact of travelling anywhere then the train trumps flying and road travel for being the most eco-friendly. As more and more people become mindful of their carbon footprint, how they reach their holiday destination or tour a country is fast becoming a major influence on where they go and how they holiday.
Readers who are already familiar with our Small and Traditional tours to former Communist bloc countries will know that we are always looking for new destinations, especially those that give the opportunity to explore those places which are well off the beaten track and to learn about the local culture and social history whilst, at the same time, sampling their railways. It all started with Romania back in 2008 and has subsequently expanded to include most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, Georgia, Armenia and Uzbekistan. Whilst the details may change from country to country, we do aim for some constant themes in this programme, particularly the use of locally owned accommodation, restaurants, transport and guides. This ensures that our custom benefits the local community rather than lining the pockets of multi-nationals.
Inevitably our research trip can be no more than a framework of the holiday which will eventually evolve. The first job is to plan a route, select and check the accommodation and get a feel for the places of interest that can be visited. It also tells us a lot about the feasibility of the proposed transport arrangements, how long it takes to get from A to B, whether it is possible to get refreshments on the proposed route and so on – the things that make our “Small and Traditional” tours what they are. We also need a good local agent to do the “fixing” on the ground and this company needs to subscribe to our way of doing things.
My colleague for this new adventure was, as always, Ramona. She has been the inspiration for all the Small and Traditional programme and her involvement ensures a uniformity of standard across the brand. Those who have travelled with her in Romania and elsewhere will know exactly what I mean.
The Telegraph described Uzbekistan as the “most fascinating country you’ve never been to” with only an estimated 1,000 Britons visiting each year. Ffestiniog Travel has been running an annual escorted tour to the country since 2017 and the destination is gaining interest among a growing number of tourists as red tape surrounding the former Soviet Union country eases. The country has so much to offer, some of the most beautiful cities in Central Asia and an interesting history along the famous Silk Road. This blog has been written by Ian Handley, a Ffestiniog Traveller, who joined one our Uzbekistan tours. He was drawn to the railway element we included in the tour itinerary and shares his experience of the train and transport systems of the country.
A rail tour of India's remarkable Hill Station railways offers both the enthusiast and general train tourist a wonderful opportunity to experience a piece of India and railway history. To cover the Shimla, Darjeeling and Nilgiri Hill Railways in the timeframe of a regular holiday - in this case 3-weeks - requires a lot of travelling, as Ffestiniog Travel guest David Peel, found out. But the sightseeing content and railway experiences certainly made it a worthwhile odyssey. David shares his thoughts of Ffestiniog Travel's 2017 Indian Hill Railways tour in this unedited, candid account!
Our closest neighbour across the Channel has been a popular holiday destination for British holidaymakers for decades. The majority of travellers tootle their way through France by car, but Dan May, Ffestiniog Travel’s European rail ticket specialist, believes for those who travel light there is a more appealing alternative of getting around France - the train!
Readers who are already familiar with our Small and Traditional tours to former Communist bloc countries won’t be surprised to read that we are always looking for new destinations, particularly those that fit our mould of a venture into the unusual, giving the opportunity to explore those places which are well off the beaten track and to learn about the local culture and social history whilst, at the same time, sampling their railways. It all started with Romania back in 2008 and has subsequently expanded to include Moldova, Bulgaria, Georgia and Uzbekistan. The details inevitably change from country to country but one theme is constant – we do, for the most part, aim to use locally owned accommodation, restaurants, transport and guides, thereby ensuring that our custom benefits the local community rather than lining the pockets of multi-nationals. By the way, did you know that, at the time of writing, there are no McDonalds or Starbucks in Albania? This seems a good reason to pay the country a visit! Albania certainly hasn’t yet been “globalised”.
Ffestiniog Travel actively encourages its customers to offer feedback on the tours and holidays they have taken with us and the more elaborate the better! So again we welcome another customer blog to these pages and one that captures the essence of our annual pilgrimage to India, combining journeys on the wonderful Hill Station Railways with visiting some of the Sub-Continent’s notable landmarks. This travel blog by Dave Firth chronicles his experience of our 2016 India Tour in which he describes the practical elements of the holiday, the interesting stops along the way and of course the railway journeys themselves!
Ffestiniog Travel is delighted to offer an escorted tour to South Africa in March 2017 that combines our expertise as a holiday provider and rail travel specialist – a tour that guarantees scenery, safari and steam! The tourist attractions along South Africa’s southern tip are well-documented and this tour includes visits to Cape Town’s famous landmarks, journeys along the Cape Peninsula and the chance to observe wonderful wildlife at first hand. But is the railway content as good as the tourist appeal? Tour leader Dave Kent, who will be escorting travellers to South Africa, gives a taste of what the rail enthusiast can expect from this tour, having travelled the same route previously and enjoyed the country’s many railway gems.
Ffestiniog Travel is always delighted to receive feedback from customers about their rail journeys and holidays, so when we received a picture postcard style slide show from one couple we felt impelled to share their travels and memories as a photo blog.
Ffestiniog Travel once again invites you to enjoy yet another wonderful photo review of one of our recent escorted rail tours by blogger Vince Chadwick. If you enjoyed Vince’s review of his previous Ffestiniog Travel tour to Ireland you will not be disappointed by his bird’s eye view and informed commentary of our Narrow Gauge Steam in Eastern Germany tour in July 2016.
Never is the well-used phrase ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ so pertinent than when parading your holiday snaps, and as a tour operator Ffestiniog Travel actively welcomes its customers to share their visual experiences of our rail tours with us. Keen photo blogger Vince Chadwick recently returned from our 15-day Irish Circular escorted tour and has captured his experience in captioned images that offer a real taste of the ‘Emerald Isle’.
When we invited travel writer Tom Chesshyre (author of six travel books) on a section of our Pushing the Boundaries escorted tour to Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania in 2014, we anticipated coverage in the travel press but hadn’t expected his experience to inspire and form part of his new book about unusual train journeys. Here Tom takes an extract from his book and writes an observational blog about his trip with Ffestiniog Travel.
Ffestiniog Travel’s ‘Small & Traditional’ escorted tours are about discovering those areas of Europe and the former Communist bloc that still remain untouched by tourism. So when introducing a new S&T destination, a thorough, hands on approach is required to establish its suitability. Here FT director Alan Heywood invites us to share his experience of his recent research trip to Uzbekistan.
Ffestiniog Travel is very proud of its Welsh roots and maintains a close connection to the country and works closely with its sister companies, the Ffestiniog Railway and Welsh Highland Railways. A percentage of profits from all our rail holidays support the continued preservation of these two heritage railways. As part of our escorted tour portfolio we visit Wales every year taking a group of tourists on a ‘Grand’ Welsh tour and many rail enthusiasts join our ‘Connoisseur’ tours looking behind the scenes of some of the little railway gems of Wales.