The English priest's committed fight against the demons of alcohol and cigarettes resulted in something completely unexpected: the package holiday.
That just has to be said. A middle-aged man, wearing a frock coat, standing collar and top hat receives enthusiastic applause for his emotional words. The scene takes place on the train platform in the central English city of Leicester on 5th of July 1841. The final words ring in the air as almost 600 men and women crowd into the open carriages. Modern train drivers know the situation: no sooner are the doors open, than the «right of might» wins. Tooth for tooth, elbow for elbow. The train could leave without guests.
The destination is Loughborough, eleven miles north of Leicester. This illustrious society steps up to something completely unique: a train journey into the countryside.
Thomas Cook, a trained wood-turner, printer and publisher of religious texts as well as an enthusiastic layman priest for the Baptists – and founder of today's «Thomas Cook Group» thought out the idea of the train journey.
There have only been trains there for 15 years and most Brits have never travelled with them. The next towns are reached on foot by ordinary people, those who are financially better off can use the horse and cart – but almost always with a clear goal in sight.
There it is now: newly developed train power and the new travel possibilities. What could we need them for? Let's get the workers out of the smoky pubs and bring them into the great outdoors with the train. Good idea, Mr Cook. As good as done. Thomas Cook campaigned tirelessly for teetotalism. He offered return train tickets for the price of a shilling, including a roll and a cup of tea. So, there it is, the predecessor of the package tour. The demand is enormous. The logical consequence: creating more offers – including the well-known journey through Switzerland.
Travel in the past centuries was neither fast nor comfortable. There's no talk of a relaxing holiday. So, in ancient times it was all about visiting places of worship. Elegant Egyptians travel to famous monuments like the ziggurats of Saqqara...
...wealthy Greeks visit the Pythian games in Delphi, as well as the Temple of Apollo (this looked a bit different back then)...
...or respected Romans leave the city of Rome on the search for a cool summer resort.
There's only been an extensive road network, like it was during the heyday of the Roman Empire, since the 18th century in advanced European states. And be careful, the streets in Rome are mainly made for the Roman Legions – civilian traffic has no right of way.
The first guided tour brings tourist groups to the Western Alps by steam ship and train. From there, it continues from Chamonix over Valais into the Bernese Oberland with mules, stagecoaches and on foot.
Cook is an experienced man. No question. But the trip to Switzerland is a completely new challenge: no mountain trains, fragmented transport sector and an incomprehensible language. He chose the stagecoach to travel with. But when there's a need to travel up the mountain (which is often the case in Switzerland) then it's necessary to charter carriers and guides. Because of course, railway network construction has only just begun, and cable cars, well, there are none at the moment. Nevertheless, on 26th of June 1863 they're off. An exotic adventure awaits.
All travel costs such as hotels, carriages and steam ship are included in the package. Only the money spent on souvenirs has to be paid by the traveller. They've booked «Switzerland with cheap tickets to Mont Blanc».
Thomas Cook's travel agency journeys to Europe's poorer countries in 1863, where beggars and «shady characters» carry out their criminal acts. Wealth, cleanliness and punctuality belong to the future.
A civil war raged through Switzerland 15 years before the first package tour. The Sonderbund War of November 1847. Politic and economical turmoil ruled the day.
One worker earns CHF 1.50 per day at the most. We don't need to work out the hourly rate here. He can buy himself a kilo of bread and a kilo of sugar. It's only logical that malnutrition is widespread and begging goes on all over the place.
Before the journey, «Miss Jemima» founds the «United Alpine Club Junior». At the general meeting on the 14th of July, the following task was given to her: «It has been decided that we should ask Miss Jemima, as the artist of the expedition, to write a report on the club hikes in the current season so that it can be recorded in the annals. The costs of publishing this however, have to be born by herself. The club cannot be made liable for the opinions of individual members.»
Miss Jemima definitely doesn't need any enemies when she's got colleagues like this.
Please smile – but not too enthusiastically. That creates wrinkles. Together with the «United Alpine Club Junior» Miss Jemima is third from the left. Danger of confusion: it's not the «London Alpine Club» meant here, in other words, the first mountain climbers connection in the world, which became an example for all the others. That's a man's-only club.
So these are the conditions. Miss Jemima now spends four days in the Bernese Oberland. From the 4th to the 6th of July 1863. What does she do with this extended weekend?
on the Staubbachfall in Lauterbrunnen
We travel to Lauterbrunnen, and then this: a storm. Thunder and lightning. Thank god the locals grant us refuge. Nice guys. But, during the quick manoeuvre of the coach, the axle breaks. It's ok – we are still happy to «drive through the valley, abundant with springs and in the shade of the rocks, to get a deeper impression of the grace of these sources and the grandeur of the rockfaces.»
After our «seven-course midday meal» we finally see it: «this bold, bright, heavenly waterfall!»
The route from the Staubbachfall to the guest house is lined with shops offering wood carvings and, unfortunately, with young beggars who want to sell us a flower or a stone. We were able to escape them though.
on the alphorn players on the Wengernalp
We leave the coach in Lauterbrunnen. And continue on foot. Don't forget the alpenstock. We reject the mountain guides. The prices are just too high (not a lot has changed in our perception of Switzerland to date). How nice, an honourable guide reduces his price. OK, we'll take him on straight away as guide and carrier. Not bad, he skillfully tied «our belongings to a type of wooden chair which he (carries) on his shoulders». The nostalgic wooden rucksack lives again.
We misjudged the trip. We naively thought the decent into Grindelwald would only take an hour. Nevertheless, we reach our goal: Grindelwald. The «despotic Somnus» (god of sleep) took hold of us without warning after this exertion.
The Wengernalp Railway is a much-loved photo object today – and it eases the climb enormously.
on the mountain guide in Grindelwald
The mountain guide is waiting. Both Grindelwald glaciers have to be explored. Then we get to the point which leads down to the glacier – «two planks made of pine wood with cross-sections», which are to serve as steps. Under them is the yawning abyss. Trust is everything. Not all club members are capable of this. Some prefer to watch the glacier from afar. For the brave, there's a daring ramble through the glacier crevasse. Nearby, we meet a member of «the other Alpine Club» in climbing gear, on his way to the Jungfrau.
The clothing of the Victorian group is almost tailor-made for a trip to the mountains. In comparison to today's «modern» outfits.
Today, the Pfingstegg cable car makes the climb a piece of cake. No effort needed.
on the first package tour through Switzerland
The Thomas Cook pioneer group are followed by many other travellers. They bring added-value and support the development of Switzerland into a country of prosperity, cleanliness and punctuality.
Photos: Jungfrau Region; Miss Jemimas Journal
Story: André Wellig
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