Slow Train to Switzerland: One Tour, Two Trips, 150 Years and a World of Change Apart
by Diccon Bewes. Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle. First published in 2013. WorldCat link
The travel agent, Thomas Cook, was well established in Great Britain when he organized his first continental tour in 1863. It was a great success and led to thousands more such tours over the subsequent 150 years.
The conditions of the tour were much more rigorous than they are today: parts of the journey were on slow, noisy trains, but many long days were spent walking, crossing mountain passes on the backs of mules, and riding in a variety of boats and wagons.
One of the women on the trip, 31-year-old Miss Jemima Morrell, kept a detailed hand-written diary of the tour. She illustrated it with her drawings and pasted-in postcards.
Diccon Bewes, a British travel writer living in Bern, followed the route of the tour and wrote this book about it. The book is far more than a travelogue. I learned a lot about Swiss history. For example:
At the time of Cook's visit, Neuchâtel had not long been Swiss. Renowned for reputedly having the best French speakers in Switzerland, Neuchâtel was also once a political anomaly, as it was part of Prussia. … When the Princess of Neuchâtel, Marie of Orleans, died in 1707, the people had to elect a new ruler from among the many claimants to the throne. They chose Frederick I of Prussia, because it was more important for him to be Protestant than to speak French. Napoleon briefly took over and then it was back to being a Prussian principality in 1815, even though Neuchâtel had by then officially become the 21st canton of Switzerland.
I didn’t know until now that the Swiss watchmaking industry got its start in the 16th century when the theologian, John Calvin, banned jewellery, so the jewellers in Geneva had to learn a new craft.
Neuchâtel Junior College students and alumni, especially people interested in history and travel, might get a kick out of reading this book. It's in the NJC school library, and it's readily available online and in some public libraries.
Readers might be interested not only in the sections about the city and canton of Neuchâtel, but also many other places they visited in France and Switzerland – described in 1863 and again 150 years later in 2013.
It gave me quite a rush to remember my wonderful Grade 13 year in Neuchâtel. Oddly, I remember almost nothing about my teachers and classes, though they were all fine. What lives in my heart 54 years later is my madame de pension, her extended family, and the school's trips around Europe – sometimes following in the footsteps of Miss Jemima and Mr. Bewes.