When a travel mag I occasionally contribute to offered me a ticket on the Orient Express I readily grabbed my first opportunity to travel on it. It was a strictly work gig. I could not invite my husband or anyone else’s !!! Mind you as my son Tarquin’s Hornby has more space I could not be too naughty!!!
You take the Pullman train from a dedicated platform at the far end of Victoria to Folkestone; a coach through the tunnel; you pick up the famous old train beloved by Agatha Christie and 2 films and, according to our Neil Rosen, the setting for the best fight scene in the movies in From Russia with Love between the Spectre contract killer played by Robert Shaw and Sean Connery’s James Bond.
I am a great one for initial impressions and a organised start forms part of this. Sadly there was a long queue taking some 15 minutes to check in. The space was too small and the amount of staff too little.
Every effort is made to make it an experience not a trip but friendly chat between check-in staff and passengers contributed to the delay. There was another wait to board the Pullman and a lack of signage too.
Every carriage is given a name, mine Ione. Here one sat in comfy armchairs in the restaurant car and were served peach Bellinis and a well-cooked breakfast of patisseres, fruit salad and scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. This was made on board and it must be a challenge to cook and serve on a train.
No complaints at all.
Because of the rescheduled time table we arrived at Folkestone too early at 12-30 as the Orient Express was leaving from Calais three and a half hours later. This meant we had a good time in the coach but more champagne was served. I fell into conversation with my neighbours. They were celebrating their 3oth wedding anniversary.
At Victoria I noted the group were silver-lined and our neighbours were typical of those looking to celebrate an occasion. I was shown to my train cabin which frankly was miniscule and no more than a banquette convertible into 2 beds and washbasin. I would not have wished to spend two nights in it and as for nookie … forget it when being on top means the upper couchette on a hard mattress. I’m am adventurous girl but I would not take on the descent to the lower couchette in a rolling train for anyone!!
The mahogany paneling, the rich upholstery, the olde worlde elegance, the staff in their colourful livery and the lighting all successfully created an ambience of relaxed and romantic travel contrasted to the more corporate Eurostar.
The dinner of a Normandy lobster, delicious beef with garden vegetables and a full French cheese board was superb. Again my compliments to the chef and the charming Italian staff as serving this in a confined space is no easy matter. There was a distinct buzz and although outside the scenery of North West France is not Sussex the sun had not set and there were fields to admire through the windows.
Nothing seems rushed – nor should it be – and there was ample time to return to the cabin to get into attire more suitable for a Paris station and short walk to the Ibis hotel booked.
A one way journey to Paris will cost with extras about £900 per person. It’s not cheap, but with all the champagne and 2 meals not grotesque value; certainly an experience I will remember and might even repeat not as far as Venice but possibly Berlin. I did not meet Sean Connery but was not murdered either!!!