Friday, June 6, 2014

The Orient Express

The highlight of our trip, which we had been promising ourselves for more than twenty years, was our trip on the Orient Express.  It was everything we could have hoped for and more.

We got ourselves all dressed up in our new clothes, and in my case my high heeled shoes. That was a challenge for two reasons. Firstly, I have rarely worn high heels for a very long time, and secondly, my ankle was still very swollen after twisting it badly the previous day, and I had blisters on the other foot.  Still, as my mother used to say "pride must abide" (by which she meant 'stop complaining if you want to wear that item of apparel').

The taxi took us from our hotel to Victoria Station (we had way too much luggage to do it any other way) and we went to the VSOE (Venice Simplon Orient Express) check in. Our luggage was taken from us, to either be returned in Venice or to be put in our cabin on the continental leg of the journey.

Eventually we joined the British Pullmans for the first leg of the journey, which was to Folkstone.  We were given Bellinis (champagne with apple puree, though the original Bellini was with peach juice) and a fancy brunch.

One of the British Pullman Cars

Decoration of our car (named Lucille)

Andy at our table

After ninety minutes this leg was over and we alighted at Folkstone West, to transfer to luxury VIP coaches that would take us on a shuttle under the channel through the Eurotunnel.  These coaches had leather seats, and a "kitchen" area, from where drinks could be served. The seats were arranged in groups of four - two facing backwards and two forwards, so got to know the first of our train-mates. We had quite a wait (over an hour) for our place on the shuttle at what was in effect a motorway services stop in Folkstone.  We also had a long hobble (for me in my high-heels and sprained ankle) to get there and back. This was the only low-point in the trip, but no doubt unavoidable.

Luxury coach with its kitchen
Eventually it was time for our coach to drive onto the shuttle to be carried under the channel. It was a weird experience for me, feeling that we were moving, but nothing I could see was moving, as we were effectively in a freight car on a railway.  Some people who suffered claustrophobia were not happy, but we all forgot about it while we chatted and laughed over a glass of wine.

Normally the travellers would be taken to the train in Calais.  But due to engineering works in France, we had to be taken to Bruges to join the train. On our extended journey I think some of the countryside we drove through may have been where some of the WWI battles took place. It was remarkably flat, and I enjoyed being able to see it.  It also gave us more time to get to know our new friends, Joan and Angela.

Eventually we arrived at Bruges station and were directed to our carriage and cabin. By this stage it was 6:30 and the first dinner sitting was at 7:00. Since the second sitting was not until 10:00, we elected to enjoy the first sitting.  It was a big rush, though, as in that half hour our steward had to show us (and every other cabin) the amenities of our cabin, and then I had to quickly get into my posh frock and adjust my makeup. All the women in that first sitting were in the same situation, but the men took a sadistic delight in watching us have to get ready so quickly.

Our cabin
Dinner was (as you would expect) a wonderful experience.  We had been asked whether we minded sharing with another couple, and said that we would be happy to do so. Our dinner companions were a Norwegian couple, who spoke very fluent English (I don't know any Norwegian), so we had a lovely time.  After dinner we adjourned to the bar and had a lively night.

My "special" entree - a salad (since I don't eat seafood). Pretty fancy for a salad
We returned to our cabin to find it converted into two bunk beds. Just as we were about to go into our cabin the train locked on the brakes and we went flying.  Andy ended up "running" (to keep his balance) three-quarters of the way down the corridor, and I went flying about half way down the corridor.  However, in the process I hit my hand on the door frame and injured my little finger. I know that makes me sound like a sook, but it swelled up and hurt a lot, and I think I did some real damage.

The cabin in its night configuration
I slept solidly all night, but Andy kept waking each time we stopped, as we did frequently since every time we went over a border we had to change locomotives to one run by the local rail service.

When we woke the next morning we were in Switzerland and we buzzed our steward who remade the room and brought us breakfast in our cabin. We spent the morning relaxing, partly in our room and partly in the bar car (over a cup of tea!). Then it was time for lunch. It was a huge, fancy meal - way too much for me - but very nice.  More relaxing until our afternoon tea was brought to us in our cabin. Incidentally, there were two other very sudden stops of the train during that day.

Before we knew it it was time to start getting ready to leave the train. Our cabin bags were taken for us, which joined up with our checked bags, and we used the transfers to our hotel that we had arranged on the train.  Porters managed everything for us at both ends of the transfer.  The water taxi took us and two other couples from the train (who we had gotten to know, so they weren't strangers) down the Grand Canal, and dropped each of the other couples at their hotels, then dropped us at a wharf on the Grand Canal, where a porter from our hotel met us and took our bags on a trolley. We were led to our hotel and checked in.

The hotel, Hotel Flora, was very nice, quaint, and with a lovely courtyard. I have no complaints at all.  The whole experience was absolutely fantastic, and it's a memory that will stay with me forever.
Goodbye Orient Express

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