Book review: The Man in Seat 61

The Man In Seat 61
Title: The Man in Seat Sixty One
Author: Mark Smith
Publisher: Random House
What’s it all about?

Mark Smith is the Man in Seat Sixty-One.
No Mark Smith isn’t a fictional spy, he is in fact the man behind the massively popular website, which offers invaluable advice on worldwide train travel.
Following on from the success of The Man in Seat 61, which took travellers around Europe by train, this book covers international train travel around Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australasia.
Focusing on affordable international travel by scheduled trains, not just deluxe tourist services, this books is packed with insider knowledge and top tips on the best routes and cheapest fares; travelling with children and changing trains; timetables and maps; essential items to travel with; and everything in between. More and more people are choosing to avoid air travel and seek alternatives, and this is the only book is a good source for environmentally friendly journeys around the world.
Smith lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife and their son. He is a career railwayman and was the Station Manager for Charing Cross, London Bridge and Cannon Street stations in London in the early to mid-90s, and later the Customer Relations Manager for two UK train companies. He has also worked as a European rail agent issuing tickets and advising other travel agents on train travel across Europe.
If you are sick of flying and want to avoid all the trials and tribulations that go with it, you may well be inspired by this book.
Smith says on his website that travelling by train from London to anywhere in Europe is a far more practical option than most people imagine, in fact it can be easier and less stressful than flying.
But finding out about train travel has become frustratingly difficult.
He decided what was needed was basic ‘how to’ information for train journeys from the UK to Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Russia and every other country in Europe.
“I thought it was a gap that needed filling, and that I could fill that gap myself.”
“So in 2001 London’s Marylebone station looking for something to read on my train home from work, I wandered into W H Smiths and spotted a ‘teach yourself HTML’ book costing all of £2.95.
“I had just bought a computer and my internet provider offered some free webspace. I read the book, tried a test webpage, and surprised myself when it worked.”
“One thing led to another, and here I am. There’s a lot of work involved in keeping the site even remotely up to date, but people seem to find the site useful, and this keeps me going is a personal website, started purely as a hobby but became Smith’s full time occupation in September 2007.
So what is the fascination with Seat 61?
Smith says Zaharoff, the notorious arms dealer, would always book compartment 7 on the Orient Express to or from Istanbul. When treating himselff to Eurostar’s first class, Smith would always request seat 61 (in cars 7, 8, 11 or 12) to make sure his seat lined up with the window, one of a cosy pair of seats facing each other across a table complete with table lamp, rather like those in an old Pullman car. It became something of a tradition, and I’ve left London in seat 61 en route to destinations such as Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Albania, Tunisia (via Lille & Marseille), Marrakech (via Paris, Madrid & Algeciras), Istanbul (via Vienna, Budapest & Transylvania), Ukraine & the Crimea, Aleppo, Damascus, Petra & Aqaba, and even Moscow, Vladivostok, Tokyo & Nagasaki via the Trans-Siberian Railway.
If you are sick of flying and want to avoid all the stresses and frustrations that go with it, you may well be inspired by this book.