My article in The Telegraph: Austria wants to restore rail’s golden age – my sleeper train to Salzburg suggests it try harder



Austria wants to restore rail’s golden age – my sleeper train to Salzburg suggests it try harder

The golden age of the sleeper-car railways began 140 years ago. That summer, the quintessence of luxury trains set forth on its maiden voyage from Paris to Vienna. The Orient-Express was the pinnacle of design and hospitality in travel.

In those days, the train was the fastest thing their was: twice as fast as a galloping horse. Only a cheetah could beat it by a nose, and then only over two furlongs. It was fifty years before the automobile or aeroplane could compete for speed.

In fact, trains were so unnaturally fast that the medical community railed against them, suggesting they could cause hysteria in women, mania in men, and death through vibrational organ failure in both. Despite this, the locomotive was and remains the safest method of fast transport available. Horses bolt – taking any carriages they might be drawing with them – and automobile and even aeroplane crashes remain far more probable and lethal than derailments. There are also the environmental arguments.

The Orient Express last ran in 2009. The hotel on rails which took its name – and its 1920s-issue carriages – is an unrelated venture. It is a travel experience, not a form of transport eastward.  

However, when the delusional global blanket of COVID-19 restrictions was lifted, ÖBB, Österreichische Bundesbahnen ‘Austrian Federal Railways’, opened the Nightjet, a sleeper service on the same route Paris-Vienna line as the original OE.

There is something about the idea of trains which has always fuelled the literary and cinematic imagination. The railways are places of romance – Brief Encounter – and revenge – Murder On The Orient Express – of psychopathic killers – Strangers On A Train – and secret agents – From Russia With Love.

My theory is that when fiction writers, who live by imagination and pursue a solitary profession, are put on trains, they are forced into proximity with people about whom they know nothing. After a few hours fantastical thoughts naturally begin to form. As Graham Greene put it, one is “compulsorily at rest; useless between the walls of glass to feel emotion, useless to try to follow any activity except of the mind; and that activity could be followed without fear of interruption.”

So, invited to view the restoration of the 19th century holiday home of Emperors, the Grand Hotel Straubinger in Bad Gastein outside Salzburg (read more on this project and the Imperial Snow Polo Cup in my article in The Telegraph, outside the subscription paywall online here), I opted to travel all the way from London by rail.

Dining Car: A steward in the dining car of the Orient Express as it leaves Victoria Station, London, 1982.

The rest of this article is available to subscribers of The Telegraph online here


From The Last Arena blog: The Hemingway Prize 2022

I have just arrived back in Nîmes for the French literary award, Le Prix Hemingway 2022, for which I am shortlisted (once again.)

I thought I would put up the composite draft of the original English, the excellent translation by Monique Allier-Chay, and my edit of that translated back into English. It may, as a result, have a clumsiness at the beginning in English, but has all of the power I intended at the finish.

It was published by Les Avocats du Diable in French (Amazon UK here, US here, France here, Spain here, Germany here) my English version is below.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison



AT first the blood had poured between his fingers like dark water seen swirling around rocks. The pain had been almost unbearable, but he had known pain enough in life to know it was nothing more than a mist one moved through. Think about something else. Where were they? They should be here by now.

Finally, he could hear voices and he knew that was good, for although the bleeding had slowed to a trickle, he knew his thoughts were drifting as his will diminished.

¡Espera, torero! Estaremos ahí. Es peligroso, quédate quieto.

He noticed one of his hands had fallen away from the wound, and he looked at the limb. It felt cold, and he knew that was bad. He tried to move it back into place, but it merely rolled on the ground. The sand felt different, colder than the hand, although all sensation was going now. As was vision. He could hear, just.

A voice said something indistinguishable in German. Which was strange, he thought.

To read on please click here to go The Last Arena where it is published in full. 

My latest for Tortoise Media’s Slow Newscast: Lebedev, Lord of Siberia

If you‘be been hearing about Evgeny, Lord Lebedev all over the news today – from the BBC to The Sunday Times – his KGB-turned-oligarch father, and his own socialite-turned-press baron career, ending as a Peer of the Realm, with the Prime Minister personally overturning MI6’s veto on that happening, then online here is the Slow Newscast that broke the story, republished on all channels today, from Tortoise, the new media venture from James Harding, former editor of The Times.
As the journalist says 26 minutes and 15 seconds into the podcast: “For the past three months, I have heard very different things about Evgeny. Some say he’s serious, others frivolous. Some say clever, others not so much. Stylish and vulgar; melancholy and a party boy. In many ways, Evgeny’s a cipher. The closest I’ve come to understanding him is by talking to this man: Alexander Fiske-Harrison.”
Alexander Fiske-Harrison

My latest article in Condé Nast Traveller: Oxford


Why Oxford should be your next staycation spot

Oxford puts the classics in classic. Yet recent additions are moving the story on. Alexander Fiske-Harrison retraces his university days and discovers new exciting hangouts

I have a fondness for smaller cities. Compared to the great metropolises, they are more discrete, more human in their scale. They are also often built upon a single resource. One thinks of Salzburg, with its salt mines, or Seville, which hosted all the gold of the Americas. Oxford is the most human of all, though, as it is built on the very commodity which puts the sapiens into Homo sapiens. Here, they mined wisdom.

I remember my own sense of awe when I arrived as an undergraduate in the mid-1990s – first as a biology student under one of Kenya’s greatest ecologists, and then studying philosophy under a tutor whose own tutor could trace a direct line, tutor to tutor, back to Immanuel Kant himself. I remember how, in the warm autumn sun, the university buildings stood like vast stone-clad thrones for the human mind – their distinctive golden colour coming from the ancient coral reefs that fossilised to form the limestone deposits of nearby Headington.

To read more click here…

Le Prix Hemingway 2021

The Hemingway Prize, with my shortlisted contribution, in French in bookshops (and Amazon) now.
Le Prix Hemingway, avec ma contribution présélectionnée, en français en librairie (et Amazon) maintenant.
El Premio Hemingway, con mi contribución preseleccionada, en francés en las librerías (y Amazon) ahora.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Feria Has Returned To Seville

ABC de Sevilla, ABC of Seville, Puerta del Principe, Gate of the Prince, La Real Maestranza, The Royal Maestranza, Plaza de Toros, The Bull Ring, Feria, Feria de Abdul, April Fair, Feria de San Miguel, The Bullfight, La Corrida, Victorino Martín, Antonio Ferrera, El Cid, España, Spain, Matador, Torero, Bullfighter, Alexander Fiske-Harrison, Enrique Moreno de la Cova, Maria O’Neill, Maestrante


My latest article in The Telegraph: The forgotten corner of Austria filled with secrets







The forgotten corner of Austria filled with secrets

Events that shaped history were forged in the ‘salt domain’ region of clouded peaks and mysterious valleys to the east of Salzburg


The original article at full length can be found for subscribers at The Telegraph online here. 

Travel writers are often asked for the secret places within their areas of expertise. We have a stock of them, usually snapshots and moments that led on to other stories. In Austria, I think of learning the hidden cultural heritage of Salzburg from the Unesco professorial chair of the subject Kurt Luger or being introduced to what is now my favourite drinkMost, a dry still apple wine, by former champion skier Rupert Pichler on the slopes of Sport Gastein where they host the Imperial Snow Polo Cup.

However, there is one area of Austria that is not so much secret, as filled with secrets. Continue reading “My latest article in The Telegraph: The forgotten corner of Austria filled with secrets”

Shortlisted for Le Prix Hemingway: The Short Story Award of Au Diable Vauvert in France

As I said in my last post about my other nomination in the Financial Times-Oxford Literary Festival, it is always nice to be listed and good luck to us all.

It is particularly impressive for this one that they wrote the nomination in English, as well as French and Spanish, given that I was the only writer in the language on the list. (I note that when I was previously a finalist for Le Prix Hemingwa –  and published in the annual collection of short stories by Au Diable Vauvert half a decade ago – they did not. Perhaps it is a Brexit thing.) Continue reading “Shortlisted for Le Prix Hemingway: The Short Story Award of Au Diable Vauvert in France”