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Monday, 29 January 2018

The Orient Express

Picture this: my wife and I wearing T-shirts and jeans sitting on a bench at St Anton Railway Station in the Arlberg Pass in Austria. Waiting in the station is the Orient Express. Crowds of tourists, mostly British, have come to see the famous train leave. A lady turns to me and says, as the guard blows his whistle, "Don't you wish you were on the train?"
We stand up and jump onto the train seconds before it moves off. "We are on train!" I say waving from the steps. I don't know why but we both enjoyed that moment for years!
We had booked a fourteen day holiday in Italy and shortly before we left my father had lost his eldest brother and we were all feeling quite low. My lovely wife, with out telling me, had booked the outward journey to Venice on the Orient Express. It was going to be a very last minute surprise for a big birthday (one of those that ends in a zero) but she wanted to pack a dinner-suit (tuxedo). "The hotel isn't that posh" I told her so she had to tell me about the train just two days before we left. She also arranged for a friend who had a Rolls Royce, that he used for hire-work, so at London's Victoria Station you can drive straight on the platform.
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The Orient Express waiting to leave Calais

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The Orient Express Lounge
The Orient Express Service was created in 1883 and ran continuously until the service was suspended during the First World War and again in the Second World War. Routes have varied across Europe over the years but London to Venice is the most popular one now. Original destinations were to Budapest, Bucharest, Istanbul, Vienna and Athens. The Great War Armistice was signed in a railway carriage in a forest in Compiègne, France. That carriage was eventually restored and became a part of the current train.
Every carriage has its own designs and Art Deco patterns which are often repeated in the carpets, curtains, marquetry and floor tiles. There is steward for each carriage who looks after the wood-burning stove which provides hot water to the individual cabins which have a couch which transforms into a double bunk-bed overnight.
The first leg of the journey was on the Brighton Belle Pullman service from London to Dover then onto the cross-channel ferry in the private Orient Express lounge to Calais. From there it was onto the overnight sleeper to Venice. Next morning we woke up travelling alongside the southern shore of Lake Zurich in Switzerland. 
The train crosses the lagoon over to Venice from the Italian mainland almost at sea level and the impression through the haze is as though the train is floating on the water's surface.
At the railway station all of the crew including stewards, engineers, chefs and cleaners line up as we cross the red carpet to board the water taxi on the Grande Canal and we were off to our hotel, The Metropole.

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Leah told me after we had returned home, that the thirty-six hours on that train had cost as much as the rest of of two week holiday in Venice and Lake Garda.
You may think rail travel is expensive but it's murder on the Orient Express.....
I'm listening to Pachelbel's Canon in D played by the Academy of St Martin's in the Field, London. This music is equally enchanting when played on a solo acoustic guitar. Listen here.


Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, It seems remarkable to travel in such luxury. I can only associate travel with discomfort and boredom, especially the long trip between Taipei and Cleveland. The Orient Express must have started off your Italian holiday with the right touch of style.

Hels said...

My goal is to travel on every luxury train trip in the world, even if it leaves no money in our wills for the children to inherit. So far, so good - India, China, Scotland, Spain, Canada, Australia, USA etc etc. But you went on the most famous and therefore the most important luxury train of them all.

If you would like to know about the Orient Express' special hotel in Istanbul, Pera Palace, go to

Thanks for the link

Andrew said...

What a wonderful experience. Sometimes you simply must go for the top and you usually don't regret it. Good concluding pun.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - that must be a wonderful experience ... just amazing to think about it and lovely photographs to entice us ... and yes, I think I'd dine out on your jump onto the departing train, as much as taking the actual trip itself ... cheers Hilary

Botanist said...

Sounds like a fabulous experience. I think my wife would love that journey too, but she'd be on the lookout for Hercule Poirot the whole time.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

That trip had to be a dream come true. I am sure that nothing could compare, but your wife is a wonderful planner so I am sure you two have had many wonderful adventures together. Birthdays that end in zeros should be celebrated to the max and you certainly did that.

bazza said...

Jim: I was worried that the rest of that holiday would seem like an anticlimax. But I need not have feared; it was fabulous! Seeing Madam Butterfly in the open-air Roman amphitheatre in Verona was too bad either!

bazza said...

Hels: Yeah, the kids have other providers now! I heard recently from a friend who thought the Blue Train across South Africa is pretty special. We have cousins in Vancouver as well as Toronto so the trans-Rockies train appeals.

bazza said...

Andrew: Well I was treated to that trip but neither of us regretted her spending HER money! I love puns and one-liners. Here's post to prove it!:

bazza said...

Hilary: The memories have been long-lasting. We met a charming American couple "My husband is the leading gynecologist in Cincinnati." There's no answer to that!
They took us to Harry's Bar where a cheese sandwich was £20. Nice....

bazza said...

Botanist: The whole experience pays homage to that era. They ask you try to dress twenties style for the evening meal and all the Japanese passengers did. My wife said that my dinner-suit was so out-of-date that it would look the part. Cheeky girl!
I would love to take that train across the Rockies to Vancouver via Banff and Calgary.

bazza said...

Arleen: You are so correct on that! I had a major birthday last year but it was much more low-key in an Italian restaurant - my favourite kind.

Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar! said...

Hi human, Barry,

What a pawesome adventure for the both of you. You really kept on track with the pawst, my illustrious human friend. Liking the way you murdered your pawst in your last sentence.

Coincidentally, my human dad has taking the train through the Rockies from Vancouver to Calgary. Told me the experience in the observation deck is most thrilling.

Thanks for this article. You did Express yourself very well, human, Barry.

Pawsitive wishes,

Penny 🐶😀

bazza said...

Hi Penny: You may think this shocking but there were no dogs on that train. I know! Outrageous isn't it? Ginger the Cat doesn't give a toss but there you go.

Sherry Ellis said...

I've never seen such a fancy train! It would be quite an experience travelling on it.

bazza said...

Sherry: It's fancy alright! They had Michelin-starred chefs on board and luxury at every point. Really a once on a lifetime treat.