A laugh-out-loud train journey across Europe with a travel writer who should know better.
Inspired by the budget InterRail trips of his youth, veteran travel writer Jules Brown thought he’d try and visit 9 cities in 9 countries in 9 days. Sadly, that wasn’t his only mistake.
It soon turned into a hot and steamy adventure (no, steady on, not that kind) by rail across Europe, taking in Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Liechtenstein, Zürich and Milan.
A tale of relaxing train rides to famous tourist destinations and guidebook sights? Not so much. All aboard for an offbeat travel adventure with a very funny writer seriously in danger of losing his cool.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review – thank you Jules!
Jules Brown has been a travel writer for many years, with train travel being his favourite mode of exploration. This began when he went Interrailing at the age of 18 in the early 1980s. The experiences he described from that particular time had me reminiscing about my own Interrailing trip in the Summer of 1988 and some of the escapades my friend Nicky and I got ourselves involved in.
The tone of Not Cool is delightfully entertaining and amusing. The author clearly has a good sense of humour and keeps his tongue firmly in cheek when describing such frustrations as the Italian obsession with bureaucracy; Swedish politeness and the Swiss cost of living.
The journey described in Not Cool is another European multi-destination trip. One Spring over a bottle of wine, Jules hatches a plan for a nine-day train ride through as many cities and countries as possible. The itinerary he decides upon is: Berlin to Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Liechtenstein, Zürich and Milan.
Unfortunately 2019, the year of his trip turns out to be the year of a ridiculously hot Summer heatwave in Europe. The heat on arrival in Berlin immediately takes him by surprise:
Picture a red-faced, glistening man who looks like he’s just eaten a vindaloo and dipped himself in lard, wading in slow-motion through treacle-like air while carrying a bag full of clothes more suited to a winter ski holiday. Imagine, if you will, a heavy-breathing, rucksack-carrying gent moving with all the sprightly ease of a prison escapee hobbled by ankle chains and negotiating a muddy field. Yep, that’s me.
During this memoir of his trip, Jules delivers snippets of historical knowledge about the places he visits, a wealth of tourist information and travel tips, all delivered with witty repartee. Along the way we learn his opinion on drunken Slovenian men on trains, hipsters and so much more:
If they ever build a prison for hipsters – to house the worst of the wax-moustachioed, craft-beer-brewing, kombucha-drinking, bicycle-riding, avocado-toasting, plaid-scarf-wearing offenders – this is what it will look like.
His choices for places to visit are unexpected. He goes to see the cartoonish Hundertwasser house in Vienna rather than the more usual palaces or town hall. Leonardo da Vinci’s vineyard in Milan is his choice, over the famous “The Last Supper” painting. In Bratislava he visits Petrazalka, the largest housing estate of its kind and discovers it is nothing like the Bronx as he first thought, there is no stigma attached to living there – it’s just somewhere to live.
Jules’ description of train travel is a romantic one. It is clear that he loves railway journeys:
Stations and towns recede into the distance – places you’ll likely never go, filled with people you’ll likely never meet, though connected to you briefly as you pass through, tracing an imaginary line on a landscape you’re both in and of, if just for a little while.
One of his tour guides, has this to say:
“After a tour”, says Juro, “you should feel like you’ve been driving around with a bunch of friends.”
I think the same can be said of reading Jules’s book. I feel like I have been traveling around Europe on trains with a new, entertainingly witty friend. Highly recommended for travel fans, Europhiles and people fed up with being stuck at home right now!
About the Author
I took my first solo trip around Europe when I was seventeen, and I’ve been travelling and writing professionally since I published my first travel guide – to Scandinavia – in 1988. Since then I’ve eaten a puffin in Iceland, got stuck up a mountain in the Lake District, crash-landed in Iran, fallen off a husky sled in Canada, and got stranded on a Mediterranean island. Not all of those things were my fault. You can read about my travelling life in my memoir, Takoradi to the Stars (via Huddersfield).
I wrote Rough Guide travel books for over thirty years, but now that I no longer have to copy down bus timetables for a living I don’t really know what to do with myself. So I come up with ridiculous ideas for trips and then write about them, which is where my 9-city, 9-day, 9-country trip came from – that’s covered in Not Cool: Europe by Train in a Heatwave.
I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.
You can find out more about me and my books at my publishing website, www.trustmetravel.com.
I also blog at www.julestoldme.com, sharing travel stories, travel-writing tips, videos and inspiring destinations – see you there, and happy travels.