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 train (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 for 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!).
We 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 our 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 Orient 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 mind 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!
We spent the afternoon relaxing in the cabin, drinking tea, reading and enjoying the surroundings. I also had 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!
Dinner 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 enjoyed 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 birthday 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.