Month: April 2024

A railway journey through time

A railway journey through time

From the 19th century on the achievements and inventions of the human race transformed the world. Suddenly there were new ways to communicate and move around. So began a railway journey through time. Up until the age of steam engines, most people lived in the area where they had been born and rarely went further than a day’s journey from home.

The first railway journey

Steam was first used in engines for the emerging factories of the Industrial Revolution. Then later it was used to power boats. But only when the engines became smaller could they be used on wheels and the idea of railways developed. George Stephenson engineered a railway from Liverpool to Manchester using his son, Robert’s engine called The Rocket. It opened in 1830.

The Stephenson’s then built a longer line connecting London and Birmingham. The excitement caught on and soon the pair were helping other countries develop railways. This led the chairman of the modern British Rail to comment that the whole world travels on a branch line of the Liverpool to Manchester original.

No stopping the railway

Once the railways came, there was no stopping their momentum. They carried goods to and from factories and eventually displaced the canal system of transport. They carried people to cities for work and business and the ordinary folk to seaside locations for recreation. The countryside was linked by the networks and huge viaducts built to span gullies and rivers. Railways brought prosperity to isolated towns and scenic coastlines. Everyone wanted to take a railway journey.

An ode to the railways

Another son of a Stephen, Robert Louis Stevenson of Treasure Island book fame penned a poem, an ode to railways. It is called From a railway carriage and starts like this.

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches.
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

I love the pace and the rhyme. Quite catchy as poems used to be before free verse. I used part of this as a header for one of my chapters in my historical series novel, Time Heal my Heart. It seemed apt for the time of the early 20th century when railways moved to the suburbs. Before people had cars they moved around on bicycle, tram, bus and train.

Railways take priority

Let’s continue our railway journey through time. Once railway networks extended anything in their way had to move. They seemed to have priority. The whole of the St Pancras cemetery had to move and be relocated for the Northern London line. Thomas Hardy before he was a famous novelist worked on this project. he positioned all the gravestones around a giant oak tree that is now known as The Hardy Tree. This story features in my novel Whispers through Time.

Likewise, when Sydney some years later had to build a suburban network, the Devonshire Street cemetery had to be moved to allow for the Central Station. Today many bodies still lie below the bustling station. The moving of a cemetery is very disrespectful. Corpses in various stages of decay are hauled from their resting places to a new site of mass burial. Headstones were left behind.

So, as you see there was no progress like rail progress. Today we see a similar process as green energy transmission lines take precedence and crush all in their path as they proceed through farmland and towns. I wonder what history will make of this in years to come.

Railways in America and Europe

The railway journey craze spread to America and Europe.  Following the example of Britain, they forged ahead with steam driven rail networks. The American pioneer Colonel John Stevens (another son of Stephen!) oversaw the first rail carriages pulled by horse and wagon. A faster and wider form of transport was sorely needed in such a vast country as America.

Europe was not far behind. France, by 1832, had a line between St Etienne and Lyon. Originally intended to transport coal it turned to passenger transport as well. Belgium and Germany followed with industry then passenger transport as the rage caught on. Politics and commerce spurred on even greater railway building projects. The vast continents of Africa and Russia benefited like America from this new form of transport. Ports could be linked to cities and one end of an empire connected to another. So developed the Trans-Siberian network and parts of the trans-Africa network. Terrain and colonial acquisitions stopped this latter vast project from succeeding.

The famous Orient Express

Europe being smaller concentrated more on passenger services. The idea of linking Paris to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) resulted in The Orient Express. It was the baby of a Belgian, Georges Nagelmackers who had already launched an international line from Ostend to Brindisi in Italy. But for the orient line the railway had to cross six nations. Not so easy plus the line was nearly 3000km long. It would cross Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria on the way to where east meets west, Constantinople.

It first left Le Gare de l’Est on October 4, 1883 on its way east. The last part of the journey was by boat though because the line was yet unfinished. Six years later it finally made the whole trip in three and a half days. That was marvellous in itself but what captivated the public was the sheer opulence of the train. Its sleeping compartments panelled with teak had marquetry inlays and water faucets. Guards for each compartment saw to all their passenger’s needs. Hot showers were available in a rear coach. There were also dining cars serving cocktails and fine cuisine, a smoking room and even a library.

The trip was very popular as it was much quicker than the boat alternative. The Orient added other routes to Milan and Venice plus from Constantinople you could connect to transport to Syria and Baghdad. Agatha Christie took this trip in 1928 after her traumatic marrige ending. She ran off and had a fantastic adventure which fuelled a few novels like Death on the Nile and Death in Mesopotamia. She met her second husband, Max Mallowan on a dig on a second trip there.

The Blue Train to the Riviera

Another glamorous train in France was Le Train Bleu which linked the port Calais with Paris then to the Riviera. In the early 1900s this was a favourite with socialites who would disppear to the Riviera for the season. Coco Chanel loved this train. It had blue sleeper cars with gold trim, hence its name. Only during the war years did it stop the night service to Marseilles, Nice and Menton.

Eventually with the desire for fast travel, trains grew out of vogue and air travel was the go.  But some services like The Orient Express are so popular for romance and nostalgia reasons that they are making a comeback. The Orient Express is due to travel again this year.  

Everything old is new again! If you love the Riviera, read my novel, The Last Hotel set there. A modern tale with old fashioned glamour and romance. Trains feature in all my books. I love trains so have my characters moving around on them. In my historical novels they have no choice.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published books. See more on her

Philoxenia and the kindness of strangers.

Philoxenia and the kindness of strangers.

Whilst at a book signing recently a customer browsing books nearby approached me with a book in hand. Unexpectedly, he asked what the title Philoxenia, a seat at my table. meant. Maybe he thought seeing as I was an author, I would know the meaning of the obviously foreign word in the title.

I eyed the attractive cover which featured a bowl of olives and a plate of rustic bread.”It looks like it is a Greek cookbook,” I commented. This was confirmed by the nature of the author’s names, Kon and Sia Karapanagiotidis. Delightfully long Greek names. The man smiled but still hovered. I had not answered his question. What does the word Philoxenia mean?

What does philoxenia mean?

I looked at the word again and recognised within it two smaller Greek words. They are ‘philos’ meaning friend and ‘xenos’ meaning stranger. “I think it means ‘the love of strangers'” I said, “but as it is obviously a cookbook, not sure if I am right.”

“I will google it,” he offered. Why he didn’t do this in the first place, I did wonder. Maybe he just wanted company or a chat with a ‘xenos’, a stranger like me. Or was I starting to look like a Miss Marple in my autumn years? No, that can’t be it, surely not, he is too young to be an Agatha Christie fan like me.

“It means hospitality or kindness to strangers,” he announced, flashing his phone towards me. “Ah!” I replied, “That makes sense. What a lovely word with a special meaning. We have both learnt something today. Thank you!” The stranger now a little less of a stranger, smiled. he had a lovely smile that further brightened my morning. Smiles are like that, aren’t they. So much better than frowns or blank stares! You feel less invisible.

Becoming more visible thanks to philoxenia

At book events, even though you are meant to be increasing your visibility as an author, you can feel very invisible. Folk wander by immersed in their own world, fair enough, I guess. But I always smile and say ‘good morning’ but many just give me a blank stare or grunt in return. Not practising philoxenia obviously. My new word.

The stranger stayed. His name was Brad. We chatted about food which made me a tad hungry as I had rushed to get here and not had breakfast. Then we chatted about travels another wonderful engaging topic. He like me had travelled widely and now we had our word, we extolled on the hospitality or philoxenia we had both experienced abroad. We had both been adopted for meals by Greek and Italian families we had randomly met. Yes, these lovely Europeans like to share their wonderful earthy cuisines with strangers. Meals made from the most basic of ingredients, fresh from the market and transformed into luscious comforting and delicious dishes for all to share. I remembered that I had included a chapter about this phenomenon in my latest book, Time Heal my Heart. 

Philoxenia and the English man

In Chapter 27, I think it is, the characters Oscar and Luigi retire from the exhausting Giro d’Italia bike race of 1914 (the most difficult race ever) They visit Luigi’s uncle and aunt in nearby Florence. There in the courtyard garden, they are plied with plates of steaming spaghetti to reinvigorate their stiff aching limbs. There in the garden, Oscar the Englishman marvels at the ‘philoxenia’ of Luigi’s family. Estranged from his own family in London, he has been a runaway for years and not even informed his parents where he is. How different is this happy, loving family sharing a splendid meal under a splendid tree in beautiful Florence.

Oscar will remember his sojourn in Florence for years to come. His time there with this family and their philoxenia prefaces the horror of the years to come. Even though Oscar and Luigi have no idea at this time, the world is about to erupt into war. In a few weeks’ time as they travel to Sarajevo, they will coincide with its outbreak, the opening shots fired by Gavrilo Princip that will echo around the world.

How a sandwich led to the outbreak of WWI

And this is another foodie story because Gavrilo would not have shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie if he hadn’t stopped for a sandwich at Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen! Now that’s a story in itself. See above link to Gavrilo Princip to read about this amazing coincidence that changed the lives of millions. I could not resist having my boys Oscar and Luigi also eating a salami sandwich nearby. A sort of Forest Gump moment. They become firsthand witnesses of the shot that lights the powder keg and boom! we have a world war. The first one ever. They called it The Great War. But it was not so great if you became embroiled in it as millions worldwide did. Oscar escapes the rising tensions by taking off to Argentina, but Luigi stays and takes the confusing consequences of his country changes sides during the war.

Philoxenia rules the day!

Now I have come a long way off topic and away from my chance meeting in the bookshop. What happened, you might ask if you made it this far? (having survived my digressions and rants) Well done you. My stranger now not a stranger stayed to chat as I said and this led, I believe to other people thinking I was worth talking to and maybe not so invisible, so a few people hovered. They picked up and turned over my books to read the blurb on the back cover. Two wondered off to the counter with copies of The Last Hotel, my bestseller. Not everyone wants a signature and mine is not flash since I have CRPS in my right hand.

Thanks to the kindness of a stranger and later a few more strangers who stopped by, I had a lovely afternoon in Rosetta’s Bookshop, Maleny in the lovely hinterland of Queensland, Australia where I live. If you are ever here in our great southern land make sure to visit the Sunshine Coast Hinterland where you can view from a distance The (stunning) Glasshouse Mountains to the south. In Maleny and nearby Montville you can experience the hospitality or philoxenia of Queenslanders! There are many cafes, cheeseries and wineries where you can share a bowl of olives and some rustic bread just like the Greeks do.

Joni Scott is an Australian writer. See website to read her history blog and find her books.


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