04.11.16 – Day 2, Orient Express – Venice

The first night on the train was a mixed bag.  I got some sleep, though not as much as I would have liked.  The train stopped from about midnight until about 3am which surprised me.  I thought that the train kept going through the night.  The cabin got quite hot so we opened the window.  Hubby commented that it would have been nice to have had the noise from the train as we slept and I agreed.  By the time the train got going, the open window was blowing a gale and I couldn’t be bothered to sit up and close it!

In the morning we found out the reason that the train had stopped for so long was because the train had actually broken down in the middle of nowhere and another en20161104_082658gine had to be brought out
to the train.  As a result of that, we were running 4 hours behind schedule.  We had been due to arrive in Venice at 5:30pm but it would most likely be 9:30pm instead.  An additional ‘light’ supper would be provided for those who wanted it.  A light supper, it later transpired, meant 2 courses (main and dessert) instead of the usual 3 courses!
The Steward advised us to let him know when we were ready for breakfast then he would convert our cabins back to daytime mode and bring in a breakfast of fresh fruit salad and pastries with a delicious selection of preserves.  I discovered that I love French honey!

After breakfast we took a wander up to the on-board shop.  I was disappointed to learn that they didn’t have an20161104_103805y fridge magnets.  I did manage to get an Orient Express bear that I was absolutely delighted with! It was an expensive but very memorable souvenir.

We spent some time in the bar playing cribbage.  It was blissfully quiet compared to the night before but the piano player was still playing.  What a lovely way to pass a few hours!

20161104_122404After we’d finished we headed back to our cabin to watch the beautiful scenery.  Part o20161104_131638f the
journey was through the Swiss alps.  Some was beautiful greenery, others were more dramatic mountains, lakes and ravines.  It made us want to do a driving holiday through Switzerland at some point!

The choice of lunch sittings was either 12pm or 2pm.  We choose 2pm as we were still quite 20161104_144056full from all the food we’d been given whilst on board.  I’d have been happy with something smaller but it was a (delicious) 3 course lunch! Sole for starter, duck for main and cheesecake for dessert.  At this point I felt like I never wanted to eat again!

20161104_164336No chance!  Afternoon tea was served in the cabin and a ‘light’ supper was offered at 6pm.  We declined the light supper.

The rest of the afternoon was spent reading and packing up our suitcase ready for when we got into Venice.  We had a short stopover at the Swiss/Italian border so we could swap over the engine and train crew.  It was also an opportunity for guests to stretch their legs which was most welcome.  I’m not used to sitting still for this long!  Again, there were armed police not too far away from the train.

By about 7pm I was ready to get off the train.  It was dark outside and we were killing time until we were able to get off.  About 45 minutes before we were to disembark the Steward collected our suitcases for sending on to the hotel.  Our hand luggage was also supposed to be sent on but because our train was so delayed we had to carry it with us.  This didn’t go down too well with all of the passengers!

We were met from the train and taken down to the dock to meet the water taxi.  As we 20161104_213115came out of the station, I was struck by the beauty and atmosphere of Venice.  There was a bustling atmosphere with people everywhere.  It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  I just wanted to stop, stare and take lots of pictures!

A small water taxi had been organised to take us to our hotel.  It was tiny and I had no idea how it would get 9 or us plus luggage in there but somehow it managed to.  My sea legs left something to be desired and as I got down into the boat  I had to hold onto one of the guys loading the luggage and the one on the boat.  What a good excuse to get handsy with some Italians!!

The journey to the hotel took about 10 minutes and I was mesmerised by the city.  I didn’t know where to look first.  It was so beautiful and so very, very different.  I’ve wanted to go to Venice for as long as I can remember and finally I was here, experiencing it after being on-board The Orient Express for 2 days.  It all felt rather surreal.

20161104_212936We were staying at The Gritti Palace Hotel, which from the outside looks like a club.  As we were disembarking, hotel staff descended on us to take our bags.  The hotel was quite simply stunning.  I was lost for words as we walked into the lobby.  Beautiful doesn’t quite cover it.  The architecture is amazing.  Marble everywhere and a gorgeous library area with leather chairs.  This was somewhere that I could sit for hours reading and people watching.

20161104_215533Our rooms were no less lavish.  The suite (room is too 20161104_215409small a word) was enormous with huge, high ceilings and a balcony looking out over the canal.  The bathroom was gorgeous with a deep bath, shower area and his n hers wash area.  The bed was big enough for 5 (though we contented ourselves with just the two of us!) and complementary champagne, bowls of fruit and water waiting for us.

By the time we were in and settled it was 10:30pm but we were hungry so we headed down 20161104_23092420161104_230931to the bar to get some (very expensive) food.  We sat outside in the bar area, sharing a club sandwich and cheeseburger watching the sites and listening to the sounds of Venice.  It still felt a bit unreal. I was excited to be in Venice and I couldn’t wait to get out and start exploring.

We dec20161104_223003ided to sleep with the balcony door open even though it was cold because we wanted to listen to the sounds of Venice.  We had extra blankets and I wanted to make the most of the experience.

Tomorrow the adventure was to begin anew!  I had a feeling I was going to love Venice!

 

 

03.11.16 – Day 1, Orient Express

The day had finally arrived for our much anticipated holiday – Orient Express to Venice, 2 days there then on to Basel in Switzerland.  It’s my father-in-law’s 7oth birthday and the official reason for the holiday is to celebrate his birthday.  He loves trains so it seemed like an ideal way to celebrate.  My in-laws have been on the Orient Express before but for hubby and I, it was the first time.

I have been looking forward to this since it was booked nearly a year ago.  It feels like one of those once in a lifetime things and a big tick off the bucket list.

The train left from Victoria station in London at 10am so we decided to stay over the night before just in case there were any problems.  We were packed and ready to go by 8:30 and a short while later we were at Victoria checking in.

We had to pack smart because we were only permitted to take a small bag onto the London 20161103_101903train (Bellmond Pullman) which took you to Folkestone where you transferred onto a coach which took you to Calais via the Eurostar.  You could also take a suitcase but you wouldn’t have access to that until you got to the hotel in Venice.  Your small bag that you had access to the on the train had to contain the evening dress and everything you wanted to wear whilst on the train.  The train had a dress code of ‘no jeans, trainers or tshirts) so I had to think carefully about what I took as I can live in jeans, trainers and t-shirts).  Snow as also predicted in Basel so we had to pack for that….

The Bellmond Pullman was a beautiful train, everybody was in high spirits and ready for20161103_102438 the journey that lay ahead.  Some people were day-trippers who were on the way to Canterbury for the day, other were going all the way to Venice.  My only small complaint was that when we checked in our suitcases hubby and I could have checked in our backpacks too.  We decided not to because the lady on the desk told us that there would be overhead storage that would be big enough for them to be put onto.  When we got onto the train we found that wasn’t the case.  We managed to find room under the table and down the side of my chair but it would have been a far more comfortable journey if we’d checked in the bags.  That’s definitely a learning point for next time (if we ever do this again!).

20161103_115016We were served a delicious lunch on the train – pastries, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and a warm crumpet with an added dash for caviar! Alcohol was served in abundance but I settled for water and tea!

The journey down to Folkestone West took just under 2 hours.  It was a comfortable journey (despite the bags) and I was excited to go passed 20161103_131037our house on the train!  I text my neighbours to tell them to wave!

We arrived at Folkestone West to a brass band playing to welcome us…..I kid you not!  I was initially bemused but it was a nice touch, really got you into the spirit of things!!

At Folkestone West we were taken to coaches (luxury no less!) where we were driven to the Eurotunnel.  We got off, went through security and had a little time in terminal building if we wanted it to stretch our legs before getting back onto the coach and boarding the train to take us across the tunnel.  It was a disorientating feeling because the coach isn’t moving  but you can see that the train is.  It only took about 45 minutes in the tunnel before we were taken to the Orien20161103_170112t Express in France.

Catching a glimpse of the train with all the staff waiting to greet us was an amazing experience.  Such a sense of anticipation that we were in for a real treat and that this was would be a once in a lifetime experience.  It’s indescribable.  Excited doesn’t cover it!  Travelling on board the Orient Express has long been on my bucket list but I didn’t know when or if I would be able to do it.

One thing that did surprise me was the armed police walking up and down the station looking moody and fierce.  We found that to be the case in many of the European stations that we stopped in along the way.  On one hand it is good that they are taking security so seriously but on another it was quite scary…

The cabin that would be our home for the next few days was small but well laid out.  Opulent is the word that springs to mind.  It really brings to 20161103_170634mind the roaring 20s.  The cabin was set up for day use with the bed set up as a sofa.  It is changed into bunks when you are at dinner in the evening.

There was a welcome pack waiting for us which told us about life on board and was a nice souvenir.  The washbasin was behind some cupboard doors.  Unfortunately the light in the washbasin stayed constantly on, even when the door was shut so we had to ask the steward to take the lightbulb out!

20161103_210020We spent the afternoon relaxing in the cabin, drinking tea, reading and enjoying the surroundings.  I also had20161103_210104 some contraband hobnobs that I’d smuggled onboard!

There was a choice of dinner sittings – 7pm or 9pm.  We choose the later sitting as we were still quite full from the brunch and hob nobs.  Dress code for dinner was formal so hubby look fantastic in a suit and I finally had the chance to wear a long black dress that I’ve had for ages but never had the occasion to wear.

Hubby and I managed to get a seat in the bar where we sat, enjoyed the atmosphere and piano music.  The atmosphere was pure 20s class.  Walking into the bar where everybody was drinking and chatting was a bit intimidating, especially as at first we couldn’t find any seats!

20161103_220314Dinner was magnificent, there’s no other word for it.  Hubby and I have eaten in some really good restaurants but this topped them all.  The food was amazing.  Lobster and leek lasagne for starter, ‘revisisted’ beef wellington for main, selection of cheeses and mille-feuile for dessert.  I couldn’t move by the time I left that table but I 20161103_222112enjoyed every mouthful of it.  I will definitely need to go to the gym when I get back!

My father-in-law got a birthday cake and the waiters sang happy 20161104_000047birthday to him which the other tables joined in with!  We hadn’t asked for them to do it, they just knew from the booking form that it was his birthday and arranged this for him.
Hubby and I decided not to stay in the bar after dinner and headed back to the cabin which had been made up for bed.  There wasn’t much room once the beds had been assembled so we had to get undressed one at a time and get straight into bed.   There was a dressing gown left for each of us (which we had to give back) and slippers that we could keep.

Its’ the little touches that really stand out for me.  It seems that they have through of everything.

 

The Age of Loneliness

A few months ago I was flicking through the channels when I came across a documentary on BBC 1 called ‘The Age of Loneliness’.  I don’t usually watch much TV but something about this caught my attention.

Loneliness has been a hot topic recently, especially since that John Lewis advert , which although mocked, actually highlights a real problem in our society – loneliness.

The ‘official’ definition of loneliness as per Dictionary.com is:

1. affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone; lonesome.
2. destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship, intercourse,support, etc.

How horrible that anybody in our society should feel this way, destitute and alone.  I had a preconception of loneliness as being mainly older people but according to the documentary, this isn’t the case.  There were older people but there were also people who have moved to a new place, stay at home mums, divorcees

One thing that struck me about all these people was the sense of shame involved in admitting that they are lonely, almost as if there is something wrong with them.

I want to give these people a hug and tell them that there isn’t anything wrong with them at all.  Loneliness is an awful thing, it’s a pit, a feeling of incompleteness but it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the person.

Why is loneliness such a problem in our society?

I’m not an expert in this area but from my own layman’s perspective I think it is things like loss of community, people moving to new towns and the death of a spouse.

Wouldn’t society be a better place if we all made a bit more time for each other and looked out for those around us.  I know time is an issue, we have never been more busy but even half an hour would make a difference.

One thing to note is that the BBC 1 documentary obviously has an angle that it is reporting from, a story that it wants to put across.  It looks at a very small number of people.  For a more balanced view you would need to look at a number of other sources.  It cannot be denied, however, that loneliness is a problem in our society.  It would be interesting to look at how loneliness today compares with that in previous generations.

Durham Weekend

Anybody whsceneryo knows me will tell you that I’ve had a lifelong love for North Yorkshire.  I devoured everything I could find on the subject.  I loved Last of the Summer Wine just for the scenery and read James Herriot books, picturing the scene in my head.  I blame my Grandparents.  They went often and were full of tales of how beautiful it was.  Even as a child, I loved scenery and the countryside.

I never had much experience of the North East, never really thought of it as a holiday destination until about four years ago when hubby and I visited Newcastle.  I found myself falling in love with the laid back pace and friendliness of the locals.  I surprised myself by preferring it to York which I imagined I would love.

My love for the North East was sealed recently by our weekend trip to Durham which was more through necessity than anything else. That said, some friends of ours have visited and highly recommended it.

Hubby had a bow that needed repairing and the bowyer would be at a Medieval Market, the last of the season.  Driving to Durham was much easier than shipping the long bow back to the Netherlands!  It was a seven hour drive from Kent (including breaks) and at times it felt like we were in one big traffic jam all the way here.

We stayed in the Premier Inn at Bishops Aukland.  Quite pleasant with a Brdinnerewers Fayre attached.  Very slow service and if you are looking for posh nosh, this is not the place for you!  I was excited to find that Brewers Fayre do an all you can eat fish and chip night, sadly not on the nights that we were there though!

The Medieval Fair was held at Brancepeth Castle which is a beautiful location to have it.  The steampunk attired gentlemen at the front gate informed us that it wasn’t usually open tocat the public.  It’s home to a couple of academics and some lodgers.  I was pleased to discover a cat lived there too.  We made friends with him/her while we were eating breakfast – a full english breakfast from the snack wagon.  Delicious and a bargain at £5 each!

The market was quite small but had lots of interesting stalls.  Most notably forbrancepeth me were Fairbow (I would say that because he is who we came to see!) and a stall selling some beautiful instruments.  The harps caught my
attention, especially when a lady started playing ‘Greensleeves’.  I stopped what I was doing and watched.  It was such beautiful music, haunting and she played it so well.  I’ve never had any interest at all in playing the harp but at that moment I really, really wanted to.

Hubby and I had finished by 12:30pm so we decided to head into Durham.  Park and Ride would be the best option we decided as we had the large car with us so we could fit the bows into it.  It wasn’t far – 3 1/2 miles.  We were pleased to find that the parking spaces were plenty big enough. We didn’t have to wait for a bus.  There was one there waiting.  Even if we had, they were every 10 minutes.  You could buy your ticket on the bus.  A bargain at £2 each.  Cheaper than parking in town and less trouble too when you have a big car like ours!

We met a friendly, older couple on the bus who advised us that the best places to see for half a day were the Cathedral and the Castle.  There were plenty of restaurants and shops the gentleman told us but hubby and I have always been more Cathedral and Castle than shopping! Once we were off the bus, the couple pointed us in the right direction.  It was only a short work, although some of it was on a steep hill.

We stopped at the World Heritage Site Visitors Centre on the way up where a volunteer told us about the Cathedral and Durham in general. Sadly you could only see the Castle by way of a guided tour because it is part of Durham University. I’m not a big fan of guided tours.  I prefer to wander around, soaking in the atmosphere and environment at my own pace.  We opted not to have the guided tour.  Maybe next time we are in Durham because there will be a next time!

The Cathedral was impressive, alone it was worth the trip into Durham for.  I found the durham-1staff who worked there were very pushy about the exhibition.  Monks chambers where you could see the exposed ceiling.  I found that off-putting.  It really was quite a hard sell.

Some of the Cathedral was closed off for a wedding which was a rather grand affair.  We had tea and scones in the Undercroft restaurant while it was going on then after looking at the Lego model of the cathedral (very impressive!), wandered round the grounds before heading back to the park and ride via Split and Glory which is a heavenly ice cream parlour!

Thanks to the gentleman on the bus we knew where we were going.  While we were waiting for the bus an interesting old lady who smelt of roses told me how the Three Tuns Hotel, which looks like it has been closed for some time, used to be a dancehall.  All the young people used to go there to dance and the men would ask the ladies to dance!  It was a beautiful image.  She painted such a vivid picture.

Relaxing Saturday night before a long drive back on Sunday.  I felt a bit sad that we didn’t have time to stop in Yorkshire on the way back home but that’s one for next time!