Tourist and Traveler's Guide to Europe Part 3

A look at Cook's Continental Guide Book, a handy tourist and traveler's guide for Europe and more, description and excerpts.

A Handy Dandy Traveler's Guide to Europe and Environs

In the 1970s, the problems are less intimidating. To solve them more easily, Cook's faithful customers usually buy 2 copies. The 1st is used to plan routes, stopovers, and side excursions ahead of time. With this method, in-transit hours can be reduced and time spent in rail terminals is pared to a minimum. Specific express trains can be chosen, weeding out the "locals" that may take as much as 4 hours longer for the same distance. Well after this preplanning is finished, Cook's patrons order their traveling copy, just before the trip is to begin.

Unknown factors that could be disastrous can be avoided with this technique. Take the Moscow-Samarkand journey, for instance. Cook's gives all basic facts in its Table 877. Distance: 2,313 mi. Scheduled time: 68 1/2 hours. Departure: Kazan station, Moscow, 2325 (11:25 P.M.). Total number of trains going through to Samarkand: 1.

Accommodations, a general note informs you, are either "Soft" or "Hard." In "Soft," the U.S.S.R.'s equivalent for 1st class in Europe, you will be booked into a large, 4-berth, couchette compartment. For certain important trains, the sleeping cars have 2-berth arrangements. In either situation, overnight trips can be embarrassing for the non-Russian since reservations are booked without regard to sex.

Riding "Hard" class is somewhat less comfortable. The choice is between a 4-bunk (not "berth") compartment, or open noncompartment coaches. Privacy is not possible.

Experienced users of Cook's will also check all footnote references and Table 877 has a real stopper. This train to Samarkand carries NO civilian traffic beyond Kuibishev, 684 mi. from Moscow. The sectional map indicates 2 other ways to reach your destination: east on the Trans-Siberian Railway (Table 878), then south at the rail junction, Novosibirsk, to cross the steppes. Or going by ship across the Caspian Sea to Krasnovodsk, western terminus for the Trans-Caspian Railroad. But again, both tables have the same footnote: forbidden to civilians, south from Novosibirsk and east of Krasnovodsk. . . .

The reason is not Samarkand itself. This Uzbek city is one of the oldest existing cities in the world, dating back over 6,000 years. In 329 B.C., Alexander the Great looted and razed the area, and was followed later by the hordes of Genghis Khan. By the 14th century, the ruthless Mongol conqueror Tamerlane chose the city to be his capital. Today, his mausoleum there is one of the most impressive monuments in Central Asia. As a tourist attraction, the city has much to offer.

Tourism by rail, however, is sharply limited to all but a select few. The entire region is cordoned off by the Soviets because of secret sites for military testing and space activities.

But why leave the Trans-Siberian train at Novosibirsk? Stay on clear to Vladivostok, 3,701 mi. and 6 days later. Enjoy the Russian tea, brewed in samovars placed in each car. Enjoy the boiled chicken and the schnitzel, or the solyanka soup. Enjoy the Romanian rice wine served daily for breakfast, along with that indescribable cereal called Grechnivaya Kasha.

Now that, say Cook's compilers--who will vouch personally for every routing the timetable has--is a trip you will always remember.

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