Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Venice Simplon Orient-Express

We love taking the trains in Europe. It may not always be the fastest way to get from point A to point B, and sometimes the WCs leave a bit to be desired (sometimes a lot to be desired, something the Big K and I are sensitive about. It's a thing of ours) but there is just something special about train rides. It might be the gentle swaying of the cars or the peculiar click-clack of the wheels against the rails or sometimes the beautiful scenery shooting by (and in some cases it does shoot. France's TGV does 300+ kms/hour).

The Big K and I always talked about how it must have been to travel in the early years of train rides, in particular the golden age of train travel of the 1920s and 30s. And of course there is that matter of Agatha Christie's famous detective, Hercule Poirot in the Murder on the Orient Express that added to the intrigue of train travel.

The Orient-Express. A name that brings to mind the luxury and glamour of train travel. We'd always promised ourselves that one day we would hitch a ride on the Orient-Express. 

And guess what? That day has arrived!
  
The distinctive blue and gold livery of the Venice Simplon Orient-Express train.


A Trip Of A Lifetime

Venice, Italy. It was a bright and cool morning on the day of our departure. The perfect day for a train ride! The previous day we received our boarding passes, luggage tags and a personalized briefing from the staff handling the train's departure. Uh-huh, you read it right. This was the first train ride where the Big K and I had to attend a briefing.


Our bags ready for pick up!

Our bags properly labelled, "X" bags to be loaded in the train's storage car much like what they did with those big leather trunks of yesteryear while the "J" bags would be reunited with us in our cabin. All bags were brought to the train station separately and ahead of us. Quite a pleasant change from our usual lug-your-heavy-bags-yourself-on-board-the-train-and-pray-that-you-get-a-space-at-the-bottom-rack kind of thing. Was that a sigh of relief I heard from the Big K?!  

Arriving at the Venezia Santa Lucia train station together with the other Orient-Express passengers, one definitely felt a sense of heady anticipation as we all gathered to board the famed Venice Simplon Orient-Express train. The Big K and I were giddy with excitement! It was such a big thrill seeing the shiny (yup, it was literally shining under the Venetian morning sun!) blue and gold train for the first time. Apparently, we weren't the only ones captivated by the sight of the iconic train as we saw other people at the station whip out their cameras and started taking pictures!

Yup, this was it! Orient-Express here we come! 


Hustle and bustle at the Venezia Santa Lucia train station! All hands on deck or should I say platform! 
All aboard! 

Each sleeper car or wagon-lit of the VSOE train is attended by a carriage steward available at 
all times throughout the journey. There is a bell inside each of the cabins that can be used to 
call him.

All carriages of the VSOE are the original 1920s models beautifully 
restored to their former glory.

Voila our cabin! Each cabin still comes with its original brass fittings including the luggage
racks and handles. True to its authenticity, each of the carriages are still coal-heated. No 
modern-day aircon here but the windows can be opened to let in fresh air.

Our own wash-basin cabinet. Now you see it, now you don't! There is one WC at the end of each 
carriage done in marble and the same shiny wood paneling found through out the train. And if I may 
add, the WC was always kept in pristine condition. That certainly gets a score of A+ from us! 

Salute! Santé! A bubbly welcome on board.

A Journey Like No Other

After personally welcoming us on board by the Chef du Train, the Maitre D' comes along to take our lunch and dinner reservations. There were two sitting times for each meal, the Big K and I opted for the first sitting for both meals. Early meal times, it's an Asian thing.

The Côte d’Azur restaurant car. 

We had our lunch at the Côte d’Azur, one of three restaurant cars on the train. Check out the glass panels on the wall! This original 1920s carriage was decorated by the famous French artist, René Lalique.

Lunch was a three-course affair. It was to be the most delightful lunch that we've ever had so far. Of course, having it on board the Orient-Express in a vintage carriage designed by a celebrated Art Nouveau artist totally made for an awesome experience.  


Buon appetito!

We started out with a soft baked egg on white Bassano asparagus with Colonnata lard and Tyrol speck (a unique lightly cured ham) and Mousseline sauce (a rich kind of Hollandaise sauce) with orange zest.

For our main course, we had Monkfish rolls with spinach salmon and pine nuts stuffing, tomatoes and basil. Snow peas buttered with beurre d'Échiré, the most exclusive and expensive butter this side of the world and saffron potatoes (saffron, another expensive spice). Nothing but the best, of course!


For dessert, it was a mocha mousse with a small Crêpe and caramelised banana on the side.

What an enjoyable meal! 

On the way back to our cabin to catch some Zs, the Big K and I made a quick stop at the famed Bar Car.


The Bar Car complete with a pianist playing on a baby grand piano.

The Journey Continues


The train's route took us up the Alberg Pass and through some lovely scenery.

Shortly after our nap, Vincent, our carriage steward, comes along with afternoon tea 
(in our case we had coffee) and some pastries. 


A much-welcomed stop in Innsbruck. Time to stretch our legs!

After the brief stop in Innsbruck it was already nearing dinnertime. If you think our lunch was impressive, dinner was going to be something else. 

Dinner on board the VSOE is strictly formal and everyone is requested to be in their formal wear in keeping with the mood of sophisticated train travel. We're talking black tie or tuxedos for the men and cocktail or evening dresses for the ladies.  

The Big K wanted to showcase his traditional Filipino formal wear so he brought his Piña Barong Tagalog the cloth of which is made from pineapple leaf fibers. For those of you familiar with the delicate Piña cloth you can just imagine the challenge of packing it for a trip without it coming out like crumpled paper after. We thank the high heavens it survived along with my evening gown with just a bit of crease here and there with no one the wiser.  

Now off to dinner!


The Etoile du Nord restaurant car with its beautiful marquetry.

A little bit of bubbly to start our meal.

Bon appétit!

Our four-course dinner started with a Prosecco risotto with tender octopus and pan-fried turbot fillet followed by the braised rack of lamb flavored with Rosemary sauce. An eggplant and zucchini gratin with mozzarella and fondant potato completed the main course.

Then lemon and strawberry sorbet to prepare us for dessert, Gianduja (chocolate) and cereals sponge cake with red berry coulis. To finish off the perfect meal, coffee was served with small pastries.

Oh boy! That was one fantastic meal!   

By the time we finished dinner, our cabin was already converted into comfortable sleeping berths by the ever-smiling and attentive, Vincent. 

Good night everyone! We got us a date with the Sandman.

Crisp white linens, warm wool blankets and comfy pillows.


Journey's End

Waking up the next day, we were served breakfast in our cabin by the amiable Vincent. The Big K and I couldn't help but feel a little bit nostalgic as the train neared Paris where our amazing journey was about to end. 

We will certainly miss the warm and wonderful service we have received from the train staff most specially from our genial carriage steward, Vincent, the first-class food skillfully prepared by one of the best team of French chefs there is headed by M. Christian Bodiguel (who happens to be celebrating his 30th year onboard the VSOE! Wow!), the food and drinks served by gracious white-coated Italian wait staff who patiently waited for me to take pictures of the food and more than willingly took pictures of the Big K and myself. But most of all the careful attention to detail that made our journey a truly memorable one. 

The trip may have taken a little dent in our pockets but the Big K and I came out of the experience richer in precious memories, something we will be reminiscing through the years.


Merci beaucoup Vincent! 

It was truly a trip of a lifetime. A journey like no other........

More photos in our Face Book page here.

Venice Simplon Orient-Express website.

Where we stayed in Venice.