With the remake of the 1934 mystery film Murder on the Orient Express lighting up the nation’s movie screens for the holiday season, I thought of what a newspaper editor might have said to an 8-year old girl named Virginia if she had written the following question, instead of the one about Santa Claus:
Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends just saw a movie named Murder on the Orient Express and they say there is no Orient Express. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there an Orient Express?
Yes, Virginia, there is an Orient Express. It exists as certainly as your family car, the planes in the sky and the ships on the sea. As a matter fact, come along with me and I will tell you about a journey back in time when I was a passenger on the Venice Simplon-Orient Express (VSOE) for a luxurious overnight trip to Venice.
Because I rode the rails in pre-Chunnel days, there have been some slight itinerary changes since my time on the train. However, the classic journey, wrapped in timeless romance and epitomizing the golden age of rail travel, is still the same.
|THE JOURNEY BEGAN IN LONDON|
Following a stay in London, I arrived at the private, red-carpeted Venice Simplon-Orient Express check-in desk in front of London's Victoria Station. The chocolate and cream-colored British Pullman parlour cars awaited me for the first leg of my journey. I saw train cars named Audrey, Cygnus, Ibis, Ione, Minerva, Perseus, Phoenix and Zena...all with their lovely marquetry, mosaic-tiled lavatories and glittering history.
After boarding the train, I was so busy looking around that I hardly noticed when it gently pulled out of the station. As the train passed through the rolling Kent countryside, I joined my fellow passengers for lunch. There was plenty of time, before the Channel crossing, to savor my first enchanting taste of life aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
In France, I transferred to the splendid continental train with the navy and gold carriages in the traditional livery of the 1920's Wagons-Lits Company. Resplendent in all its romantic glory, each car was regally adorned with the Wagons-Lits crest and raised brass lettering that read: 'Compagnie Internationale des 'Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Europeens'.
|BOARDING THE NAVY BLUE AND GOLD CARRIAGE|
All Aboard! As I walked through the corridor of the train, I noticed that the doors of each cabin were decorated with oval marquetry panels of stylized flowers. Within all of the cabins, the marquetry (inlaid woods) continues in the shapes of delicate flowers.
My cabin had been ingeniously designed with its own concealed wash cabinet. It was wonderfully appointed with monogrammed towels, VS-OE soap and a 24-hour supply of Evian drinking water. The chrome luggage rack had a flower motif in relief; the base for the traditional silk-pleated lampshade was cast from the original mold of the 1920's; and, although macassar hair oil is a thing of the past, the 1920-like upholstery was crowned with crocheted antimacassars.
|1920-LIKE UPHOLSTERY WAS CROWNED WITH CROCHETED ANTIMACASSARS|
Lapped in luxury, I was content to spend my first hours aboard the continental train just looking through the windows. Spectacular reach-out-and-touch-me views were enhanced by high tea---complete with finger sandwiches, country scones served with lashings of clotted cream and strawberry jam, Norfolk fruit cake, coffee kisses and Ceylon tea.
Dining on the Orient-Express was a treat, the culinary adventure of a lifetime. The train had several dining cars…the Chinese-motifed car #4095,Voiture Chinoise; the #4110,"Etoile du Nord", where some of the finest marquetry in the continental rake is to found; and the renowned #4141, the Lalique Pullman decorated with glass panels of Bacchanalian maidens by Rene Lalique.
It was impossible to overdress on the Orient-Express. My daytime attire was highlighted by a Chanel-like cloche and an antique carved ivory cigarette holder holding a pink cigarette that I never smoked. It was even more fun to dress for dinner with a suggestion of the roaring twenties. Long pearls, and a few strategically placed ostrich plumes from a local costume shop, gave a period look to my evening clothes.
|ROARING 20’S PEARLS, FEATHERS AND BEADED PURSE WERE DE RIGUEUR IN BAR CAR|
At dinner, the white-linen, orchid-vased tables---exquisitely laid with handsome monogrammed silver, cut crystal and Limoges china---were truly fit for royalty. The elegant Bar Car, once used to take invalids to Lourdes, attracted a worldly crowd both before and after dinner. The finest champagnes, the Art Deco interior, and the Lalique glassware conjured up the romance and glamour of the Roaring Twenties. Noel Coward tunes, resounding from the baby grand piano, brought a glorious age back to life.
I was lulled to sleep in a bed swathed with damask linen. Morning cafe complet was within my cabin. Zurich, Switzerland was outside. Innsbruck, Austria accompanied a grand lunch. There was only one more tea time remaining and then it was time to detrain in Venice where a water taxi sped me off to the Hotel Danieli.
THE JOURNEY ENDED AT THE HOTEL DANIELI IN VENICE
By then I realized that one of my life's great adventures had just become history. I also realized that riding the rails, from London to Venice on the VS-OE, was an experience--not just a means of transportation. There are many faster, and less costly, means of travel. My 30-plus hour ride on the Orient-Express rekindled the romance of the rails as it melded with history. It was intrigue, glamour, fantasy; a symbol of good living and a byword for luxury and elegance. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express was, and still is, the world's most famous train. It is the King of trains and the train of Kings.
Murder ON the Orient-Express? Agatha Christie, you got it wrong. It's murder getting OFF the Orient-Express.
STEINBERG is the winner of 43 national Travel Writer Awards. She is also a Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Cincinnati, Ohio