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U3A Writing: The Orient Express

...At about 5.30 the Chef de Cuisine came to ask whether we wanted first or second sitting for dinner - we opted for first. We unpacked and dressed for dinner which was an evening dress affair. The dining car was truly Victorian luxury, panelled in olive green picked out with gold with the lights, table lamps and other fittings in brass....

Frank Straw recalls a journey in the lap of luxury aboard the Orient Express.

The Orient Express - what does the name conjure up? Agatha Christie, 'Murder on the Orient Express' with Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings? A relic of the past or a touch of gracious living from the Victorian era? Certainly the last of these as my wife and I found when we travelled to Victoria Station, London, to begin our journey to Venice.

We booked in, handed in our luggage and waited in the lounge until our embarkation at about mid-day. The train consisted of several luxurious restaurant cars where we were greeted with champagne prior to being served with a delicious meal with a choice of wines. This pleasantly passed the time until we reached Folkestone where we transferred to luxury coaches which took us to Boulogne via the Shuttle. Refreshments were served - fancy shortbread, cheese straws and wine. In view of the lunch we had only just eaten, few people took advantage of these.

At Boulogne we were greeted by our steward, in a pale blue uniform with gold trimmings, and shown to our cabin. The cabin had a settee with cushions, a table and, in the corner, double doors concealing the washing facilities. The whole cabin, apart from the settee, was panelled with highly polished mahogany. We sank onto the settee and my wife said "With all these changes I hope our luggage hasn't been lost". I glanced up and there it was on the rack.

At about 5.30 the Chef de Cuisine came to ask whether we wanted first or second sitting for dinner - we opted for first. We unpacked and dressed for dinner which was an evening dress affair. The dining car was truly Victorian luxury, panelled in olive green picked out with gold with the lights, table lamps and other fittings in brass.

We enjoyed a second delightful meal with champagne and wine served by attentive white coated waiters with the Chef de Restaurant, attired in a morning coat trimmed with gold, holding a watching brief - he looked like a retired Admiral but I hadn't the nerve to ask him.

After dinner we sat in the piano lounge which had a bar and a pianist playing nostalgic tunes on a grand piano.

We returned to our cabin to find that our Steward had converted the settee into two beds. He then appeared to ask if we required anything and if so to ring for him any hour of the day or night.

We then turned in to our comfortable beds and slept. In the morning we dressed and rang for the Steward who brought our breakfast after converting our cabin to day use.

By this time we were approaching the snow-covered Alps and the scenery was spectacular. We stopped at several stations on the way and enjoyed a short break so that we could stretch our legs and take photographs as we strolled along the platform and admired the scenery. St. Anton, in Austria was about the highest point of our journey and we strolled along the platform looking at the town which was covered with a foot of snow.

Then lunch with more delicious food and wine in the restaurant as we passed through Innsbruck then on through the extensive vineyards as we headed towards Verona - the heart of the Valpollicella and Souave wine growing regions of Italy.

About 6 o'clock we arrived at Venice Station where our luggage was unloaded and taken to the waterfront where we were escorted onto a water taxi with two other people, which took us to the front door of our hotel which was next to St Mark's Square.

This account cannot do justice to the journey, the train, the scenery, the most helpful and attentive steward and, not least, the food and wine. It was a journey back to an age of elegance, comfort and luxury. An experience never to be forgotten and a fitting prelude to a stay in that picturesque city of Venice, but that is another story.



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