The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019


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Lynda and David
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The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Lynda and David »

I apologise that this report is so long and that I’ve mentioned some of the prices of drinks on the trains. When we were researching our trip I had great difficulty trying to find answers to quite simple questions, its almost like people don’t want you to know the small detail and I couldn’t find any forums like our Cruise Community to ask anything.

It was our 30th Wedding Anniversary on the 29th April this year and we decided to celebrate by booking a trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient Express after watching a TV programme two years ago which followed a group of people travelling on the train. We booked in June 2018 as soon as the packaged tours for 2019 came on sale. We noticed that the earlier you book the cheaper the fares. A month before we travelled the price of a the same journey on the same date had risen by over £1,000 per person.

The train journey from London to Venice is the most popular journey offered by VSOE. Some guests choose to do the full round-trip experience, but many want to just do it one-way and might wonder if it is better to go southwest bound or northeast bound? For us that decision was easy as after leaving Venice we wanted to travel back to Paris by TGV and stay there for a few days as that was where we spent our honeymoon.

Two weeks before we travelled, we receive a package in the post containing our Travel Journal and some beautiful VSOE luggage tags. The Travel Journal was sent in a beautiful White box with the Belmond logo on the front and was personalized with our train journey route, name, dates, and contained our tickets in the front and included a copy of our tickets for us to keep. The booklet also explained about check-in, itinerary, the train amenities and a section for us to write our own thoughts during the trip. The tickets didn’t state which seats/carriage we were allocated, this information was given to us at check-in.

We were asked to call Belmond to re-confirm our booking 48 hours in advance of the start of our journey, the phone number was provided in the journal. This was just to confirm that the British Belmond train from London Victoria down to Folkestone West would be leaving on time, we left on a Sunday and sometimes the timetable changes on a Sunday.

Sunday, 28th April 2019

This date was also the day of the London Marathon which concerned us a little as the finish line for the race is just around the corner from Victoria station. We left home in Hammersmith earlier than we normally would have done just in case we got caught in traffic. Our taxi dropped us at the side of London Victoria Station by Platform 2 which also happens to be the platform the Belmond British Pullman leaves from. The Departure Lounge and Check-in for the VSOE is in an area to the side of the platform.

We joined the long queue for Check-In and it was at this point we both relaxed. We had spent a long time researching this trip and worried something would go wrong, but as soon as we were in that queue there was nothing else to worry about, we were in the hands of Belmond.

The dress code for the trains is confirmed in the VSOE Travel Journal. Belmond state that you can never be overdressed on the Orient Express, especially in the evening. During the day, smart casual wear is fine, but definitely no jeans, shorts, trainers, or the like were allowed. However, in the evening guests are expected to change into formal wear. For men, this means a dark suit and tie or a tuxedo and dress shoes, and for women this could be a cocktail or evening dress or a formal trouser suit. Dressing up is part of the experience and those who do not want to follow the dress code will be asked to dine in their train compartment.

To travel in during the day David wore a Jaeger Linen Suit in Stone colour, an Aquascutum Blue and White checked shirt, Brown leather shoes and he carried his Mulberry briefcase for his phone, chargers, electronic cigarette thing, book etc.

I wore a Joanna Hope three-quarter length lightweight coat in Blush Pink, a Phase 8 Navy dress which had big pale Pink and Cream flowers all over it, Nude heels and I carried my Mulberry Maggie Pink Ruched handbag which is my favourite handbag and one that I don’t often get the opportunity to use these days.

Standing in the queue gave us the opportunity to see what everyone else was wearing. Most people adhered to the dress code, and no-one was dressed in jeans or trainers.

A group of 4 came out of Check-In, the men were wearing striped jackets and dark trousers, bow-ties and straw boaters and the women were dressed in 40’s style tea dresses, short jackets and fascinators. Then a Japanese couple came out of Check-In, he was wearing a Cream 20’s style raincoat and a trilby hat and she also was wearing a 20’s style raincoat with a short cape over the top and a very stylish hat. But the most stunning thing about her was her perfect make-up, her skin looked like Porcelain. As they walked past the queue people stared as they made a stunning couple.

Whilst standing in the queue we noticed two young chaps going into the back of check-in with a large old-fashioned trolley, each end of the trolley was made from Mahogany wood engraved with the Belmond logo. They would load the trolley up with suitcases and push it past the queue out to a side entrance. I had assumed that the luggage would be loaded onto the Belmond British train. Curiosity got the better of David and he decided to follow them after they came in and out for a second time (we were still quite a way back in the queue). David came back and said the cases were being loaded into a White truck, the truck was driven down to the Eurotunnel train, it goes onto the train and then drives to meet the VSOE in Calais where the luggage is unloaded straight into the train’s luggage compartment.

Luggage allowance on board is one overnight bag (carry-on size suitcase or smaller) or one suit carrier per passenger. Each passenger is also allowed one suitcase to be checked-in and these were not available to us until we reached Venice once it was checked in. Everyone is asked to wear pyjamas to sleep in on the train so that if they need to use the toilet during the night they are respectably dressed when walking in the corridor.

The Departure Lounge opens up a couple of hours prior to departure, and guests are told to arrive at check-in no later than 45 minutes prior to departure. The lounge seating area is comfortable although it can get quite crowded right before departure. There is also a toilet and complimentary refreshments (water, juice, coffee, tea) available while you wait to board the train.

It took about 20 minutes of queuing before we made it into the Departure Lounge, and were directed to one of the three check-in desks. Our passports and tickets were checked, our suitcases were taken from us and labelled with the name of our hotel (that was the last we saw of them until we reached our hotel room in Venice), our overnight bags were taken from us and labelled with our carriage and compartment number (we were in Carriage J, Compartment 1). We did not have to carry our overnight bags on the Belmond British Pullman. A note was taken that we were celebrating our 30th Anniversary the next day (we did mention this when we booked) and we were told that we were travelling in Zena carriage on the Belmond British Pullman train in seat numbers 13 and 14, also that we should board Coach One when we arrived at Folkestone West. We did not have to register a payment card as everything is charged at different parts of the journey. Once finished, and as there weren’t any free seats in the Departure Lounge, we decided to wait outside.

The gleaming Belmond British Pullman arrived about 20 minutes prior to departure, we watched it come into the station. Once it was ready for boarding, the gates opened and we were asked to board our carriage.

We were greeted by Bobby, our Chief Steward who introduced us to Julia who would be helping to look after us on our journey down to Folkestone West, she showed us to our assigned seats. On board the Belmond British Pullman, there are both 2-person and 4-person tables available in all of the carriages, as well as a limited number of 4-person coupés which are perfect for those wanting more privacy (I assume you ask for one of these when you book the train). The seats in each carriage are upholstered Pullman chairs that are very roomy and comfortable. We were seated at a regular 2-person table. Once we had hung up our coats and were settled into our seats, we were served Bellini cocktails, a fitting beginning to our 36-hour train journey.

The Bellini actually has a strong connection to both Venice and Belmond as it was invented in Venice by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar and Hotel Cipriani and is popular with guests traveling aboard the VSOE. Imagine sitting on a train with well-dressed guests sitting in colorful plush roomy armchairs amongst rich wooden panels decorated with Art Deco marquetry, tables set with snowy White linen, silver and crystal, and gleaming brass light fixtures and luggage racks. This gives you a good mental snapshot of the Belmond British Pullman. David and I were both very excited as we sipped our Bellini’s and watched the train pull out of Victoria Station bang on time at 10.45am. After a short period, the brunch service began.

Our friendly Chief Steward, Bobby, and other staff members took very good care of us throughout our time on the train. A staff member regularly came by to clean away empty dishes, offer us bread, or refill our glasses with more Bellini and coffee. It was a lovely experience having the meal in the beautiful Zena carriage with the Kent countryside as our moving background. Here was our full brunch menu:

Signature Bellini cocktails
Strawberry and Blueberry yoghurt with Granola Crunch
Viennoiserie Pastries fresh from the oven
Chopped fresh fruit with seasonal berries
London Cure Smoked Scottish Salmon, Scrambled Egg with Chives on a toasted English Muffin with Caviar
Morning bakery selection with preservers & butter
Choice of coffee or tea

When the scrambled eggs and smoked salmon course was served a line of stewards came through the carriage each carrying one item – the first steward put warmed plates in front of us, the next steward placed a toasted English muffin on the plate, the next served a scoop of scrambled egg on the muffin, the next placed smoked salmon on top and the final steward placed Caviar on top and scattered fresh chopped Chives over the top of everything. This course was the highlight of the Brunch.

After the brunch we decided to order Gin and Tonics from the drink’s menu, £10 each. The drinks menu offers bottles of various wines ranging from £50 to £120, Bubbles £40-£245, Cocktails/Aperitifs £10, Beers £6. We were offered the chance to purchase souvenirs from the Belmond catalogue. We declined as we wanted to buy something on the VSOE.

Bobby recommended taking some time to walk up and down the elegant row of carriages to explore each one and learn a little about their history. He said to look at Audrey, as this carriage is a favourite of the Royal Family who always travel in her when on the train. Currently, there are 11 restored historical carriages being used as part of the Belmond British Pullman. The carriages all have ladies’ names, Audrey, Cygnus Gwen, Ibis, Ione, Lucille, Minerva, Perseus, Phoenix, Vera and Zena.

Vera, Gwen and Audrey are old Brighton Bell Carriages and there is a rumour that they are named after the mistresses of the chaps who designed them. (Bobby told us this, he was happy to chat and answer any questions we and the other passengers had.)

Each carriage dates from the 1920’s to the 1950’s and has its own unique decor and history. There are plaques in each carriage as you enter each one and we were given a booklet that describes the history of the train and its carriages. All of the carriages are unique and have interesting histories, whether they were once in service on a famous train line, carried royal family members (several did!), served as part of Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral train in 1965, or were used as a film location. The toilets are beautiful, the floor of each toilet is decorated with a beautiful mosaic, most created by the late artist Marjorie Knowles. Our carriage, Zena, was built in 1928.

The exact amount of time you’ll be aboard the Belmond British Pullman depends on the chosen train route for the day, our journey took about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Before leaving the train, Julia came around to collect payment for our G&T’s.

As the Belmond British Pullman pulled into Folkestone West, we were greeted by a small local jazz band. We were asked to disembark the train and make our way to our waiting coach. There were staff members along the way to direct us. Since the train cannot use the Channel Tunnel, we made the crossing while seated in the coach which was driven aboard the Eurotunnel shuttle train to take us to Calais.

We were told that the length of time on the coach varies depending on traffic and passport control between less than 1 hour to over 3 hours with the average journey falling somewhere in between. Luckily for us from getting on the coach in Folkestone to arriving at Calais Ville train station took less than one hour.

We sat at a table for 4 towards the rear of the coach. We were joined by a couple from Belgium. Michael, the husband turned out to be quite a character, they were in our carriage on board the train and Michael loved to talk to our steward, we could often hear him chatting away in French.) After boarding the coach, we made a brief stop at the Eurotunnel terminal so that we could get off the bus and go through passport control, this took all of 5 minutes and we were soon back on the coach. This is obviously the least enjoyable section of the trip. If you are planning to take this trip, just plan for a bit of the magic to be lost here and know you will be travelling onboard a coach so that you are not disappointed when this happens or there are traffic or security delays crossing the Channel as Belmond has very little control over this part of the journey.

The coaches are comfortable with roomy chairs, tables, and UK-style power sockets. Refreshments are served along the way. We were offered glasses of Sparkling Wine from Kent which was delicious and if I remember correctly from a vineyard called Hush Heath. We were also given bottles of water, crisps and nuts. It is quite an interesting experience to be seated in a non-moving coach as it sits within a moving train. David and Michael spent the journey chatting about Brexit and trying to encourage the stewardesses to keep the sparkling wine coming. Michael’s wife kept raising her eyebrows at me because of their behaviour. When we arrived in Calais, we were told that the VSOE wasn’t ready for us to board and we would be driven around the countryside near Calais until the train was ready. Something to do with a delay on the trains journey from Venice. After about 20 minutes or so the coach driver received a message on the radio that the train was ready and to take us to Calais station.

The coaches parked at the entrance to the Calais station and upon exiting the buses, we were greeted with the sight of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express liveried staff lined up in front of the beautiful Blue, Cream and Gold vintage carriages. We were given 10-15 minutes to walk around and pose for photographs with the staff, take pictures of the train, and find our designated sleeping carriage.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express logo is on the train’s gleaming exterior as well as that of the La Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-Lits logo (every time I saw that name on the side of the train, in my head I could hear David Suchet as Poirot saying it). The LX type sleeping cars were some of the most luxurious sleeping cars built by the Wagons-Lits company. I hadn’t appreciated how tall the VSOE is, and the steps up onto the train are quite high, especially as you are climbing up from ground level at the Calais station, not platform level. If you have a physical issue that impacts your mobility, this train journey would be difficult. Because of the dimensions the train is not able to accommodate a wheelchair.

The train is almost a quarter of a mile long and comprises three restaurants, a bar car and twelve sleeping cars.

We met our cabin steward who introduced himself and directed us to our sleeping compartment (I’m sorry neither David or I can remember his name, I should have written it down in my notes). Our overnight luggage had already been delivered to our cabin. We had a chance to hang up our coats and sit and have a look at our compartment. We actually sat for a few minutes in silence just admiring the wood and marquetry, the brass rails, everything. In our compartment, we were greeted with a card from the train manager congratulating us on our 30th Wedding Anniversary, a set of Art Deco stationery, a map of the train journey, and some information about the train. Cabin service is available 24 hours and you can order wine, drinks, and luxury snacks such as caviar, smoked salmon, foie gras, canapes, fruit platters, and cheese plates (at a cost).

Once the train pulled away from the station our steward came in to us and poured us two glasses of Champagne. He then explained the basics of the cabin workings, collected our passports to be able to address any inspections at border crossings so that we didn’t get disturbed during the night these were returned just before we reached Venice), and he also gave us a key and explained to us how to lock and unlock our cabin and how to secure it from the inside with the security chain. After our steward left to greet the Maître d’hôtel arrived to take our dinner reservations. There are two sittings, one at 6.30pm and one at 9.30pm, we requested 9.30pm and a table for two. We were given a handwritten card confirming our dining car, table number and dining time to give to the waiters.

Although there are small differences across cabins such as the colour of the upholstery, location of washbasin and the light switches etc, each cabin has a similar layout. The main features of the main cabin are the sofa seating area, small folding table, a footstool, and a lamp. For storage, there is a wide upper luggage rack along the wall across from the sofa and a couple of hooks to hang coats and evening wear. There is also a small radiator under the table, a window which can be opened with a roll round handle, a small fan along the wall, reading lights for each bunk, and two 220-volt European style 2-pin sockets. Some cabins come with a small safe, if you wish to use the safe your steward will give you a key.

All cabins also have a washbasin cabinet that can be accessed by opening two wooden doors and this contains a sink with hot and cold water taps, soap, a mirror, glasses and canned water, towels, a razor power socket, and a very nice selection of toiletries created by Temple Spa in a cream leather case, our steward told me “this is a present for you madame”. There were also two Kimonos for our use on the train and two pairs of Slippers for us to take home. There were four other cans of mineral water on the shelving unit by the window, the VSOE now have a policy to recycle every bit of waste and no longer use plastic bottled water.

We booked a Twin Cabin to travel in. Originally we were going to book a Cabin Suite but decided we’d like to travel in the traditional way. For anyone who doesn’t know, a Twin Cabin converts to upper and lower sleeping berths at night, a Cabin Suite is made up of two interconnecting Twin Cabins, and you have the option of two lower berths at night, or using one cabin for day-time use whilst keeping the other to sleep in. The difference in price between a Twin Cabin and a Cabin Suite is approximately £1300 per person if you book as soon as the new dates come on sale.

Also available on the train are three Orient Express Grand Suites, (the cost of these per person is from £6,825 per person in 2020) they have a much larger and spacious cabin with more amenities. These suite cabins include a double or twin bed bedroom, a living area with sofa that converts into another bed and private dining space, a private en-suite bathroom with shower, sink, and toilet, and complimentary bathrobes. Traveling in the Grand Suites also comes with additional amenities and services, such as private check-in, unlimited Champagne, additional menu options, and private dining options.

The VSOE website says a Twin Cabin is 1903 mm x 1478 mm which is about 6.2 ft by 4.8 ft. Small, but you soon get used to the size and most people left their doors open during the day which makes them seem larger. The cabin is very comfortable to sit in, watch the scenery, read, and have breakfast and tea as two people. If you are planning to take this train journey, just be prepared for a tight space unless you book a Grand Suite. We really came to love our tiny cabin although we probably would not have wanted to sleep in it for more than a couple of days! These are restored vintage train cars although some modern amenities have been added but there are no showers aboard the trains (with the exception of the three Grand Suites) just shared toilets and the washbasins in the cabins.

Coal stoves are used for heating and hot water in each carriage (we watched the steward in the next carriage stoking the fire for his carriage, the stewards are very happy to chat and explain the workings of the train). There is obviously no air-conditioning although the windows can be rolled down for ventilation and there is a small fan on the wall of each compartment.

The train does stop at various stations along the way, two reasons for this. The first is to change engines at the border to the next country and the second is to take on water. We were told by our Steward that where the ceiling slopes in the carriages there are large tanks to store all the water used on board and this frequently needs to be replenished.

The VSOE has a no smoking policy and this includes electronic cigarettes. If you wish to smoke or use an electronic cigarette you have to ask your Steward when the train stops at a station and he will accompany you to get off the train to smoke. You cannot get off without him as the doors are locked even in a station.

There is no Wi-Fi on-board the train. However, there are electrical outlets in each sleeper compartment on the VSOE (Europe-style 2-pin sockets) to keep devices charged you need to remember to bring an adapter. There is decent phone signal along the route. You may use electronic devices (e.g., mobiles, tablets, laptops) in your own personal compartment, but you are asked not to take them into the public areas.

Current newspapers and magazines are available and there is a mail box located on board and your steward is happy to post letters and postcards with a special Orient Express stamp.

Toilets - Shared toilets are located at the end of each sleeping car. We had no issue with the shared toilets as they were kept very clean and fresh by our Steward. Our Steward told us that we must not use the toilets or the sinks in our compartments when the train was in a station. I thought maybe you could be seen in the toilet from the platform but there was a different reason. When you flush the toilet the waste flushes straight onto the railway line – everything! The same with the compartment sinks all the waste drops onto the tracks.

Most people were celebrating a significant birthday, anniversary, honeymoon, or other events during their trip. A few had been on the train before (or other trains operated by Belmond) and loved it so much they were regular travellers. There were a group of tourists travelling with Regent Silver Seas who were catching a cruise ship in Venice. The average age of guests was mainly 50’s upwards. Most people were happy to strike up conversations and chat, especially in the Bar Lounge.

3674 The Piano Bar and Lounge - After we had settled in to our compartment, David suggested we go and find the Bar Car. In many ways, VSOE is a much more luxurious and comfortable train than guests would have ever experienced from its historical predecessors. The piano bar and lounge car, originally built and used as a dining car, is a great example of this as there wasn’t a bar and piano lounge car on the historical Orient Express. This modern addition provides a comfortable social gathering spot on the train. It is very popular from the moment it opens and both before and after each dinner seating. Seating is limited and you may have to stand at the bar until a seat becomes available. A resident pianist plays on a baby grand piano in the lounge and you’re likely to hear music from the early to mid-1900’s from the likes of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Noël Coward. The pianist is happy for you to put in a request.

We managed to grab the last table which was beside the pianist and decided to try the signature cocktail, a ‘Guilty 12’, the recipe for this cocktail is kept a secret although we were told that two of the ingredients were Gin and Prosecco. This cocktail contains 12 ingredients, and was inspired by the 12 characters in the famous Agatha Christie novel. I could also taste some sort of herby liqueur. The cocktail is finished off with a Blueberry floating on the top. These cocktails are 22 Euros each. We ordered two and drank them very quickly, as they were so delicious we ordered another two and after finishing those went back to our cabin as by this time it was 6.30pm and the start of first sitting in the restaurant cars and we had to walk back through the restaurant cars to get to our compartment and didn’t want to walk through while people were eating.

The Bar Car is a great place to admire the passing scenery, or have a drink and conversation with fellow travellers. The train also has a small Champagne Bar on one end of the Côte d’Azur dining car where guests can have a glass of champagne or enjoy a champagne cocktail.

Dressing for dinner is all part of the experience. All the men we saw were wearing tuxedos and all the women were in cocktail dresses or full-length evening gowns. A few guests during our trip were also dressed in retro 1920’s and 1930’s evening wear, and we were told this is the case on many of the journeys.

We would recommend starting to get dressed earlier than you think you need to as it can take a bit longer when trying to do it in a small cabin on a moving train! Changing clothes can be challenging but we took turns with one person sitting on the couch and the other changing and we managed fine. TIP: Ladies when putting on make-up, especially mascara, try and do it when the train is in a station otherwise you will finish up poking yourself in the eye. I made an effort before leaving home to carefully put on full makeup finishing with a setting spray so that all I had to do when getting ready for dinner was repair my makeup. This was one of the tips I learned when researching our trip. The train can jostle you around a little at times so be prepared when walking around to hold onto the handrails, or if walking through the bar car the hands of your companions as there is nothing to hold onto and people happily hold their hands up to help you on your way.

Dinner - There are three different dining cars, and everyone has the opportunity to try two. We had dinner in the Etoile du Nord which was built in Birmingham in 1926 and served part of its service in the Etoile du Nord route from Paris to Amsterdam. The car features beautiful marquetry and is upholstered in a dark green colour.

The following afternoon, we had lunch in the Côte d’Azur, which was built in 1929 as a first-class Pullman and was decorated by René Lalique for service in the Côte d’Azur Pullman Express. The car is best known for its beautiful opaque Lalique glass panels showing classical figures holding grapes, and the chairs in the car are currently upholstered a medium blue colour.

The third dining car is the L’Oriental which was originally a Pullman kitchen car built in Birmingham in 1927.

We pulled into Paris Gare de l’Est about 9pm which just about gave the guests joining the train in Paris time to change into evening wear before dinner at 9.30pm. David and I made our way to Etoile du Nord dining car and were shown to our table for two. We were given the choice of dining from the ‘Taster’ menu which was included in the fare, or from the à la carte options. The average price of a main course from the à la carte menu is 49 Euros. We chose the Taster Menu and noted that most people stuck to this menu. However, were we to travel on the VSOE again we have decided we will order just one course from the à la carte menu. We had assumed that being a Taster Menu the courses would be small portions which was not the case. We would prefer to have one delicious, reasonably sized course and pay extra for that than to finish the evening struggling to finish our food.

The Taster Menu:

-Risotto with Blue lobster and black truffle caviar
-Slow roast Charolais beef fillet and bone marrow Bordelaise sauce
-Cheese selection
-Lemon Sorbet
-Chocolate cream & Vanilla Bavaroises with fresh Mango Coulis
-Coffee

The Risotto was absolutely delicious, it was very rich and more like a main course size portion. We got about half way through the Beef Fillet and started to struggle and couldn’t finish it. Our very kind waiter must have noticed we were having problems finishing this course and discretely took our plates away and suggested we try the Lemon Sorbet to cleanse our palate, which we did. It was just what we needed and allowed us to eat Dessert. When the Chocolate Cream and Vanilla Bavaroises were brought to us mine had a lit candle in it and the waiter congratulated us on 30 years of marriage and poured us both glasses of Tattinger Champagne to celebrate, a lovely touch and totally unexpected.

We ordered a bottle of Gewurztraminer to drink with our meal, this cost 69 Euros and unusual for us we could not finish it. (Gewurztraminer is a wine we often order on board ship). Our waiter put it away and it was brought to our table the next day to finish with our lunch, although we were in a different carriage for lunch, we didn’t have to ask for the wine, is was just brought to us.

The atmosphere in the dining car is amazing. The mood is set for the evening and everyone is dressed in fine evening wear. Lamps are glowing against the passing night landscapes and the tables are set with fine china, silver, crisp linens and crystal glassware. As we drew out of Gare de l’Est and travelled through Paris we saw the Eiffel Tower lit up in the distance in the dark. After dinner we were so full that we decided to go back to our compartment.

During dinner our Steward made up our compartment for night use. Our couch and lounge area had been transformed into a cosy sleeping area with an upper and lower sleeping berths and the Kimonos and Slippers were laid out for us. We also found a packet of five mini-chocolate tablettes made by Michel Cluizel a Normandy-based chocolatier on the bed.

The beds are I would say, about 6 foot-long; David is 5’11 tall and just about managed but anyone taller might have a difficult time being comfortable on these beds. It is a bit difficult but not impossible for two persons to fit in one bed (or so we heard), but I would not recommend two people actually trying to sleep in one berth overnight.

I chose to sleep in the top berth and had great fun getting up the ladder and into bed, once I was in bed I slept so well. The beds are very comfortable and we felt snug and warm. You can hear some noises of people walking up and down the corridor, and you can also hear noises from neighbouring cabins but you can’t hear normal conversation level talking. David woke up about 2am when the train stopped to change engines at Dijon. He said we were stopped there for 2 hours and the platform lights were glaring through the blinds keeping him awake, I however slept through. TIP: If sleeping in the top bunk keep a small bag by you to put things like glasses case, tissues and bottled water in for use during the night as there is nowhere to put these things close to the top bunk.

Monday, 29th April 2019

We woke about 7.30am when the train stopped to change engines at the border into Switzerland. David quickly got dressed and went to ask if he could get out of the train to use his Electronic Cigarette. Our Steward accompanied him and I could hear them talking on the platform. Although I would have liked to lay in bed for a bit longer, I took the opportunity to get up and washed and dressed while I had the compartment to myself. David came back and I sat on the bed while he washed.

The night before, our Steward asked us what time we’d like breakfast and what type of juice and hot beverages we’d prefer, we said any time between 8 and 9am, there is no specific time that you need to get up, some people were still in their pyjamas at 10am. Once the train started moving again and we were both dressed we opened our compartment door to let our Steward know that we were ready. He asked us to stand out in the corridor and he transformed our compartment back into a daytime seating area. We watched while he demonstrated how the various pieces folded down, were attached, and what was stored away. We were quite amazed at how the train compartment transformed so quickly from night-time sleeping quarters back to daytime use, and our Steward could accomplish this full transformation in less than 5 minutes. He said he is quite slow at changing the compartment over from night to day seating as this is his first season on the train but is working on getting faster.

The continental breakfast is served in your cabin and is fairly simple but fresh, with good tasting coffee. This breakfast is also available as a Vegan and a Wellness option. The Wellness option consists of Fruit salad, yogurt and cereal with organic milk and a slice of raisin bread.

Continental Breakfast Menu:

-Juice (Orange, Grapefruit or Multivitamin)
-Selection of teas, Coffee or Hot Chocolate
-Fresh Fruit Salad
-Bakery basket with Preserves, Honey and Butter (and Cheese on request)

For those who are very hungry or in a celebratory mood, there is also the Celebration Breakfast menu that is served in the Restaurant Car from 8-10am. This costs 150 Euros per person and needs to be booked the day before. It features a selection of freshly baked breads, smoked salmon, eggs, truffles, and caviar as well as Tattinger Champagne. We really weren’t up for eating all that so early in the morning. There is also a Vegan version, again for 150 Euros per person

After Breakfast we spent some time packing our night things and formal wear away properly, just leaving out a couple of toiletries to use during the day. The Maître d’hôtel arrived to take our lunch reservations, we requested second sitting (1.30pm) and a table for two. (First sitting lunch is at 12). We were given a handwritten card confirming dining car, table number and dining time to give to the waiters. We then opened our anniversary cards that we had brought from home from the family and after that we went for a walk to find the Boutique.

There is a small boutique located in the rear of the Côte d’Azur dining car which sells gifts from the Collection Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. These include items such as postcards, silk scarves, neckties, jewellery, glassware, lamps, cufflinks, books, and tea sets. The train carries only a limited amount of merchandise so if there is a specific item you want you can pre-book it so it will be available on the train. We bought what we always buy on holiday – a fridge magnet. It is in the design of a Blue VSOE carriage and cost 20 Euros. David asked if I wanted to buy anything else, he mentioned purchasing a pair of Champagne Flutes with the VSOE logo on but I was worried they might get broken on the way home.

The scenery in England is pretty but the best scenery on this journey is when you are in Austria, Switzerland and travelling by the Italian lakes. The majority of the scenery is very pretty but there were some industrial areas and urban sprawl along the tracks. We had a few hours or so of very nice scenery and as the windows in our compartment opened, we were able to take glare-free photos.

About 12.30pm the train stopped at Domodossola in the Piedmont region of North Western Italy. We were told we would be there for at least half an hour and it was a good place to get off the train to stretch our legs. I watched as our Steward, wearing his jacket, hat and White gloves, opened the door of our carriage got down and laid out a Red Carpet then he stood and helped us to get down onto the platform. This was only a small thing but it shows the lengths Belmond go to make the experience of travelling on the VSOE a special one. This stop was lovely, the sun was out and it was very warm standing on the platform, in the distance we could see snowy topped mountains. I took some more pictures of the train and also of the mountains.

Lunch

We went for lunch at 1.30pm in the Côte d’Azur restaurant car, a beautiful setting with its Opaque Lalique glass panels. By this time, we were passing through the Italian Lakes so were able to get a good look at them as the train had slowed down its pace. Our waiter brought our bottle of Gewurztraminer from the night before to finish and we ordered another bottle to go with our 3-Course Lunch which consisted of:

Starter - Pan-fried Turbot fillet, crispy kataifi wrapped oyster and its turmeric flavoured juices
Main - -Fois gras and chestnut stuffed quail with Muscat raisin sauce, Green Beans with Bacon, Sweet Potatoes and Chive sautéed Chanterelles
Dessert - Garrigue Honey caramelized Figs with Gingerbread Ice Cream

After we finished lunch our waiter presented us with our drinks bill for the restaurant.

We headed back to our compartment and sat watching as the train made its way towards Venice. About 4pm Afternoon tea was served in our compartment. Thankfully it only consisted of a selection of tea bags, hot water, and a dainty but delicious slice of cake which we managed to eat. At some point one of the bar waiters came by to collect payment for our Guilty 12 cocktails.

Our final couple of hours were spent sitting on the couch and watching as we went past Vineyards and over the Lagoon into Venice.

Finally, we heard the announcement that we’d soon be arriving at the Venice Santa Lucia station. Our Steward came by to collect our overnight bags. He placed them by the carriage door ready to be put down on the platform so that we did not have to try and climb down from the carriage holding them. David handed him a gratuity and we thanked him for looking after us. We gave him our room key and he gave us our passports back. The train arrived in Venice 15 minutes late at 18.45pm.

It was a bit like being awakened from a dream to be in the bustling and noisy modern train station after 32 hours of Golden Age travel. As soon as we stepped down onto the platform, we saw a lady holding a sign with our names, and we made our way over to her and introduced ourselves. She took our overnight bags and put them on a trolley, then another couple came over and she took their bags and asked us all to follow her. We quickly waved goodbye to Michael and his wife and followed our lady. She took us off the platform, through the concourse and out to the front of the station and over to the water taxi platform. Our water taxi was waiting for us and she told the driver where to take us. We were quickly off away from the station and into a side canal. We passed the water fire engine station and within minutes we were arriving at our hotel on the Grand Canal where we were booked to stay for 4 nights.

Many guests end their VSOE trip with a stay at the 5-star Belmond Hotel Cipriani, we opted for a smaller 5-star hotel on the Grand Canal.

Our Thoughts on our Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Train Journey
We both thoroughly enjoyed our journey aboard both Belmond trains. It was a lovely way to celebrate being married 30 years.

Both the Belmond British Pullman and the VSOE Continental train have been beautifully restored and it was a real pleasure to explore them and be able to dine and sleep on the VSOE. You do at times really feel transported back to a past age with the luxurious surroundings, good food, attentive staff, and well-dressed passengers.

Although the coach portion of the trip is not ideal, it was fairly smooth and well organised. I do think that Belmond should better inform people about this part of the journey.

The food throughout the journey was excellent. The service was fantastic. The attention to detail is amazing.

We can thoroughly recommend the train to anyone interested in this experience, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is a wonderful luxury train journey across Europe Just keep in mind that after one journey, you’ll likely want to repeat the trip. We are already saving to travel on the train again for our 35th Wedding Anniversary but this time from Venice to London, and if finances allow in a Cabin Suite.

Finally answers to some questions

What is Included in the Price of the VSOE journey? Travel from London to Venice, overnight accommodation in a private cabin, meals (brunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea), and service is included in your fare. All table d’hôte meals are included along with coffee and tea. The Bellini’s on the British Belmond train and the welcome glass of Champagne on the VSOE are included in the fare as well. All other drinks are extras.

Tipping on the VSOE? The cost of the train journey is inclusive of all service charges, and Belmond say any gratuities are at your own discretion and not expected. We tipped our cabin steward just before disembarkation as he genuinely took an interest in us and making our journey the best he could.

Are Children Allowed on the VSOE? We did not see any children on our journey, but Belmond say children of all ages are welcome aboard the VSOE and children under 12 receive a discounted fare if sharing a compartment with an adult.

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Stephen
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Stephen »

Sorry Lynda and no disrespect but my attention span waned by the time I got to a third of the way down.

Not sure it would be for me. No private facilities, and I'm not one for wearing PJ's :shock: :D

I was surprised how cramped the waiting area lounge sounded, and for the premium fare I would have expected a bit more than tea and coffee before boarding. Champagne and canopies at the very least.
Last edited by Stephen on 26 Oct 2019, 15:09, edited 1 time in total.

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Kenmo1
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Kenmo1 »

Thank you Lynda for an absolutely amazing review. I know we will never get round to doing this journey but you really bought the whole journey alive for me as I was reading it. Wonderful, I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Maureen
Last edited by Kenmo1 on 26 Oct 2019, 16:01, edited 1 time in total.


Finker
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Finker »

Just a wonderful review. Well done for your patience taking time to do it.

Something I wouldn't do as I dislike the dressing up but I really enjoyed reading it so thank you very much.


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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Whynd1 »

Thank you Linda for an excellent report.
So pleased you enjoyed your experience.

One day maybe.

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Jan Rosser
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Jan Rosser »

Sounds as if you both had a fabulous time - thank you for taking the time to tell us all about it - what a wonderfully different way to celebrate your anniversary.
Janis

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Mervyn and Trish
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Mervyn and Trish »

Thank you for an excellent review. We've seen a package that includes the train one way and a Cunard cruise the other. If we can ever afford it we'd love to do it.


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Lynda and David
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Lynda and David »

Stephen wrote:
26 Oct 2019, 15:05
Sorry Lynda and no disrespect but my attention span waned by the time I got to a third of the way down.

Not sure it would be for me. No private facilities, and I'm not one for wearing PJ's :shock: :D

I was surprised how cramped the waiting area lounge sounded, and for the premium fare I would have expected a bit more than tea and coffee before boarding. Champagne and canopies at the very least.
I was worried my review was too long Stephen but it was the only way to explain what happens on the journey. We've both watched the films several times and wanted to see what it would be like to travel on the train. We were supposed to have a party 5 years ago to celebrate our 25th Anniversary but cancelled it because my Mum died a couple of months before our anniversary and we didn't feel like celebrating, the money we would have used on the party went towards our train journey.

As for pyjamas we now have two pairs that won't get worn again, I can't stand the things :D


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Lynda and David
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Lynda and David »

Kenmo1 wrote:
26 Oct 2019, 15:59
Thank you Lynda for an absolutely amazing review. I know we will never get round to doing this journey but you really bought the whole journey alive for me as I was reading it. Wonderful, I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Maureen
Thank you Maureen x


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Lynda and David
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Lynda and David »

Mervyn and Trish wrote:
26 Oct 2019, 21:46
Thank you for an excellent review. We've seen a package that includes the train one way and a Cunard cruise the other. If we can ever afford it we'd love to do it.
Thanks Mervyn, we did look at booking a package to include the train and Cunard cruise but it was also my 60th birthday in August this year and we had already booked a Baltic cruise to celebrate that and had to draw a line somewhere. It's been an expensive year x

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GillD46
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by GillD46 »

What a fabulous experience. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Gill


anniec
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by anniec »

Terrific review, thank you very much indeed.


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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by MaureenB »

An excellent review. Thank you very much.

I would love to do this and then have the cruise from Venice, but without a win on the Lotto it remains a dream!


CaroleF
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by CaroleF »

Before I read your review the trip was something I thought I would like to do, now I am certain. What a lovely way to celebrate your anniversary. I really appreciated the detail of your review as it really gave such a clear picture of what is involved. If you do another one in a Cabin Suite please post another detailed review.

Carole

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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Dancing Queen »

What a fabulous review thank you so much for sharing it with us Lynda.

I must admit I started to read this last night and gave up, not because it wasn't holding my attention but because I was tired and felt it deserved reading when I was wide awake so would fully appreciate it .. I wasn't disappointed.

The VSOE has been on our bucket list for a long time - one day !!! it's good to hear en suite facilities are available although at the 'eye watering' prices for a suite I might have to wait for a lottery win :crazy:

Thanks again, a thoroughly enjoyable read with so much detail which answers questions many would probably like to ask but wouldn't.
Jo

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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by david63 »

Thanks for the excellent review - although I am with Stephen (not literally!) with the shared "amenities", and there is no way that Mrs63 would go for that unless it was a Grand Suite and I haven't won the Lottery yet :(

Also the prices for the "add ons" are somewhat eye watering but I suppose if I could afford a Grand Suite then it would not be a problem.

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Stephen
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Stephen »

david63 wrote:
27 Oct 2019, 11:24
Thanks for the excellent review - although I am with Stephen (not literally!) with the shared "amenities", and there is no way that Mrs63 would go for that unless it was a Grand Suite and I haven't won the Lottery yet :(

Also the prices for the "add ons" are somewhat eye watering but I suppose if I could afford a Grand Suite then it would not be a problem.

Thank gawed for that. I nearly choked on my whisky :shock:

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Gill W
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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by Gill W »

Thank you for your excellent report.

When we had a lunch for our 30th wedding anniversary on the British Pullman, we were in Ibis. In a couple of years time, we want to do a day out on the British Pullman, for our 40th wedding anniversary, and I'd love to be in Audrey, as that was my mum's name
Gill


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Re: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Belmond British Pullman trains 28th and 29th April 2019

Post by cruisin_duo »

Lynda,

Thank you for this lovely review, and what a way to spend your Anniversary. Hope you enjoyed your stay in Venice, and the weather was kind to you.

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