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En-Suite Cabins Coming to Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in 2018

14 Jun
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Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Grand Suite ‘Istanbul.’ Photo courtesy of Belmond.

Always loved the idea of the 1920s-vintage, Art Deco Orient-Express — but not the idea of tiptoeing down the hall to the bathroom?

Nor the idea of going without a shower until you get to your hotel?

Your wait is over!

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the world’s most iconic luxury train, is adding three all en-suite “Grand Suites,” Belmond, the train operator, says. These will be available for all VSOE departures beginning March, 2018.

Bookings opened June 13, and interest has been extremely strong. The Grand Suites for the iconic 2018 Paris-Istanbul journey are expected to sell immediately, and the wait list for 2019 is already long.

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Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Grand Suite ‘Paris.’ Photo courtesy of Belmond.

The cabins will be named “Paris”, “Venice”, and “Istanbul.” The décor of each suite will emphasize the cultural and artistic aspects of each destination.

Most notably, each Grand Suite will have a private bathroom with toilet, tiled compact shower, and sink. Guests will sleep on double beds, which can be also made into two twins. The separate living area will include a table and chair and sofa that can fold out to accommodate a child or a small adult.

Grand Suite guests will also enjoy the services of a private butler, free-flowing champagne, private transfers, and private dining in their quarters, if they desire.

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Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Grand Suite ‘Venice.’ Photo courtesy of Belmond.

Each cabin is designed to evoke a bygone era from the Golden Age of travel, said designer, Rachel Johnson, Vice President and Studio Director of London-based Wimberly Interiors. She was trying to “recreate the essence of Art Deco glamour in an elegant and timeless design,” she added.

Historic carriage No. 3425, which is currently a carriage for solo guests, is being renovated to accommodate the three new en-suite cabins. The car was once used by the king of Romania for trysts with his mistresses, according to Belmond.

For the ultimate in privacy and luxury, guests also may book the entire Grand Suite carriage, as long as space exists.

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Historic coat of arms of the original Orient Express — still a fixture on the classic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The cost of the new cabins will be about £5,500 per person, per night — about U.S. $7,000 at today’s rates.

Belmond says it is testing the market with the new service and may add additional Grand Suites in the future.

The estimated cost of the renovation is 600,000, said Gary Franklin, Managing Director, Belmond Trains & Cruises.

The car left last week for France, in the Massif Central, where the company does the VSOE‘s heavy maintenance, he said. It will be ready for the first trip in March, 2018.

“People have always been asking for en-suite facilities. Putting a shower in one of the normal compartments was not going to do it justice. We went for something very spectacular and very glamorous,” Franklin said in an interview with IRT.

“We want to maintain the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express as the pinnacle of luxury.”

VSOE bookings — including Grand Suites — are now open on all 2018 departures, including Paris to Istanbul or reverse.

Already booked on a 2018 VSOE departure? Call us to inquire about upgrading to a Grand Suite.

And if you’re interested in 2019, call us to get your name on our “first notification” list. We will contact you — and you will have priority — when bookings open for 2019.

To upgrade, book, or get on our “first notification” list, call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725; or email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com

Eleanor Flagler Hardy is the President of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

Evolution of a Classic: the VSOE Stays Ahead of the Curve

7 Oct

Lucy Clark, Belmond’s Director of Sales, Trains & Cruises, made a special trip to IRT’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky this week to give us a full report on everything new in the world of Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.  Over lunch and chocolate-pecan pie, we discussed:

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IRT CEO Owen Hardy with Lucy Clark, Belmond’s Director of Sales for the VSOE.

Air Conditioning: Beginning in 2017, all cabins on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express will have air-conditioning. Ms. Clark gave us the inside scoop: “the VSOE’s actually already begun experimenting with A/C during the 2016 season — but we wanted to keep it subtle and make sure our passengers didn’t hate it.”

As it turns out, “they” — the 1920s purists — didn’t hate it, when they noticed it at all. The A/C in the bar and dining cars was greatly appreciated by those traveling in July & August — the hottest months of the season, she said. And those traveling to Turkey liked it as well.

And purists take note: the windows in your cabin will still open, so you can drink in the smell of Alpine meadows – one of our favorite pasttimes.

Berlin: The journeys to/from Berlin have been a huge success, and they will be repeated in 2017. The VSOE hugs the Rhine Gorge — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — for 100 miles. She hopes the rollicking jazz combo that traveled on the train this year will be back — they’re working on it.

Verona: O Romeo, Romeo — wherefore art thou, Romeo? Did you know that you can get on — or off — the VSOE in Verona as well as Venice? Click here to read more about this option.

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Cinema:  A new Murder on the Orient Express film is in the works, starring Judi Dench and Johnny Depp, and directed by Kenneth Branagh. Look for it in theaters next November. IRT expects it to make departures on the VSOE sell out earlier than ever next year.

Special Offers: Book Venice to Paris or Venice to London by Oct. 30, and get 2 complimentary nights at the fabulous Belmond Cipriani Hotel in Venice. Applicable dates are: March 22 & 29 and April 5, 8, 19 & 26. Email us for details.

Or book Venice-Paris or Venice-London by Oct. 30, and receive a free cabin suite upgrade for travel through April 30, 2017. (A VSOE cabin suite is two double cabins linked by a private, interior door. It gives a couple double the space, with two windows, two wash basins and two lower bunks.)

Offers are not combinable; other restrictions apply.

Istanbul – Venice Annual Journey: Space still remains for this once-a-year trip: dates are Sept. 1-6, 2017. IRT guests who did the trip this year said it was magical. Don’t let them have all the fun! Call or email us to book your cabin.

Ready to Book — But Which Direction? Can’t decide between Venice-Paris-London or London-Paris-Venice? The routes between Paris and Venice (or Verona) are decidedly different. So do both!

The northbound route takes the VSOE through the Brenner pass. Southbound, the VSOE plies the Gotthard Pass between Basel and Airolo. Both routes are beautiful in their own way.

For information about our great journeys, email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com or call: 800-478-4881 or 502-897-1725.  Find us on the web at IrtSociety.com.

 

 

IRT On Luxury Safari

3 Jun

If you’re planning an adventure on Africa’s Rovos Rail or the Blue Train – two of our World’s Top 25 Trains® – don’t make the trek without adding a safari extension for some up-close animal encounters.

That’s our conclusion after our recent study tour to East Africa with one of the world’s top safari partners — Micato.

Read on for highlights!

          An elephant family on its daily march to the swamps in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.                     IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

Scene 1:
Trundling along in Kenya’s dramatic Laikipia Conservancy, our guide stops suddenly to admire a giant male elephant with enormous tusks playing in the river below, splashing and spouting.

         A mother and her cubs watch us with casual curiosity in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.              IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

The elephant swims across the river, lumbering through a pod of dangerous hippos. He trumpets angrily, seeming to scream, “Let me pass!” The hippos scatter.

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Wildebeests leap across our path in the Serengeti. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

Scene 2:
Quietly approaching a female lion in our Land Rover, we admire her from about 20 feet away. She looks at us placidly, and then, deciding us worthy, she pads into the woods and returns — with her two-month-old cubs.

Scene 3:
Perched on a road in the middle of the Serengeti, we witness an incredible sight: the beginning of the great migration — 1-2 million wildebeests and about 600,000 zebra and other hooved animals —heading north to grassier, wetter Masaai Mara. The roaring wildebeests cross single-file in front of us.

Scene 4:
Lying in our luxurious tents, we listen, enchanted, to the sounds of nature all around us: weaver birds flitting and chirping, hyenas crunching the bones of their prey, the honk of a hippo in the river right outside our tent, the seemingly thousands of birds waking us in the morning.

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A rainbow comes out over Amboseli National Park during our nightly “sundowner,” where our guides serve us drinks and snacks atop a lookout point. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

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          A Maasai welcome for IRT’s Rachel Hardy as we step off our bush plan and into the                        Maasai Mara Reserve. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

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Giraffes in Serengeti National Park. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

For both of us, traveling together made everything extra special: seeing our lodgings for the first time, admiring the beauty of the zebras (Rachel’s favorite) and spying our first family of elephants (my favorites!).

We hadn’t gotten to spend so much time together in years!

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We loved what our guide called the “little five hundred.” A sampling of the feathered little five hundred: top left: guinea fowl, center left: mating crowned cranes, bottom left: weaver bird, center:                          malachite kingfisher, top right: saddle-billed stork, bottom right: ostrich.                                IRT Photos by Eleanor & Rachel Hardy.

 

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We loved visiting a Maasai village in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Here, the women prepare to greet us with a traditional song and dance. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

Interested in joining one of our South or East African departures? Space fills up early and quickly for journeys on Rovos Rail & the Blue Train – and of course for all the prime safari camps. Call us: (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Email us: tourdesk@irtsociety.com Or vist our web site: http://www.irtsociety.com

Eleanor Hardy, IRT President & co-owner, and Rachel Hardy, IRT’s newest travel associate, were honored to be invited to join Micato’s study safari in Kenya & Tanzania. Many warm thanks to Micato owners Jane & Felix Pinto and the entire Micato team!

 

Japan’s ‘Seven Stars In Kyushu’ Named A World’s Top 25 Train®

25 Mar

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The Seven Stars’ Deluxe Suite A, at rear of train, offers unbeatable views. Photo courtesy of JR Kyushu

The Society of International Railway Travelers® is proud to announce that the Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu, as it’s officially known, is the first Japanese train to be awarded status as a World’s Top 25 Train.®

We are also proud to announce that The Society of IRT is the first agency/tour operator in the Western Hemisphere to charter the Seven Stars. (Download the tour program here.) And IRT is the first to sign a contract to obtain other dates in October and November of 2016 for our honored travelers.

Operated by JR Kyushu, the Seven Stars began service in  October, 2013. The luxury train was an immediate hit. Space on the train — which accommodates a maximum of 30 guests — routinely sells out many months in advance.

High demand has caused JR Kyushu to hold periodic lotteries to determine who gets to ride the Seven Stars.

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The Seven Stars’ Deluxe Suite A, the train’s largest accommodation, includes a picture window in the back wall. Note the woodwork in the ceiling, windows and floor. Photo courtesy of JR Kyushu

“That’s not a big problem for most Japanese, who are just a bullet train ride or two away” from Fukuoka, Kyushu, where guests board the Seven Stars, said Society of IRT CEO & founder Owen Hardy.

“But basing your travel plans on winning a lottery is unworkable for most travelers from the Western Hemisphere, who need to book flights, hotels, and itineraries months in advance.”

The Society of IRT’s package, conducted in English and accompanied by a professional English-speaking guide, solves this issue beautifully – and takes care of every other conceivable detail along the way.

Although our group trip is wait list only, we are delighted to announce we are adding other departures for individuals — seeing the wonders of Japan and enjoying the new Seven Stars and Sweet Train offerings.

Participants will spend 10 days touring some of Japan’s most famous cities – among them

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Seven Stars staff are friendly and efficient. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Miyajima. They’ll ride several of Japan’s famed bullet trains. And they’ll ride special trains such as the Odakyu Romance Car and the Yurikamome Train.  They will also enjoy the fabulous Sweet Train.

The tour’s “grand finale” will be the four-day trip on the Seven Stars, which is the pride of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island.

“During my two-day trip last year, we were greeted at every station by throngs of smiling locals, waving flags and greeting us like royalty,” Hardy said. “They ranged in age from young children to aged grandparents. Unbelievable!”

Why the hysteria over a train — even a luxury train?

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JR Kyushu bullet train. Photo courtesy of Japan National Tourism Organization

“The Seven Stars is truly a work of art on wheels,“ said Hardy, who had a test ride last November.

“Everywhere I turned I saw stunning fabrics, gorgeous glasswork, richly hued posters, shimmering porcelain. Most spectacular of all was the intricate floor-to-ceiling woodwork from a variety of trees of varying colors.

“The cuisine is “as beautiful as it is tasty,” Hardy continued. “And the expert staff exude a combination of Asian elegance and hospitality with genuine warmth.”

The Seven Stars more than deserves its “World’s Top 25 Train®” status, he added, placing it among such luxury rail stars as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Belmond Royal Scotsman, and the Golden Eagle.

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JR Kyushu’s beloved “Sweet Train” Photo courtesy JR Kyushu

IRT is also holding space on Kyushu’s equally popular Sweet Train, which runs between Sasebo and Nagasaki. Much like its “big sister,” the Seven Stars, the Sweet Train is a delightful amalgam of design, delicious food and impeccable service, Hardy says.

Space on the “Deluxe Rail Journey of Japan” group tour is now wait list only. But to receive the Society’s 24-page booklet on our package, click here.  We will send you all the new dates and pricing for our other travel dates for this package.

Or contact The Society of International Railway Travelers® as follows:

Myanmar’s Orcaella Combines 2014 Comfort, Timeless Charm

25 Feb
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The new river cruiser Orcaella allows passengers to see Myanmar up close as people live their lives on the river, much as they’ve done for centuries. IRT Photos by Owen & Eleanor Hardy

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Fresh flowers are everywhere on the Orcaella

I’d just walked into my beautiful cabin aboard the brand-new, Orient Express riverboat Orcaella, ready for a 12-day cruise on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River.

As I opened the door to our private bath and shower, my eyes went straight to the slender silver vase with a single stalk of pink gladioli.

Like the flowers, our 25 Society of IRT clients, Owen & I gradually unwound from up to 24 hours of air travel. By the second or third day, our flowers were blooming – and so were we.

Built in Myanmar, the Orcaella’s not much to look at from shore — it resembles an elongated shoebox. But inside, it’s a showplace, from the gleaming Art Deco lamp sconces in the dining area, to the tasteful regional art throughout to the expertly laid-out cabins.

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Myanmar’s new river cruiser Orcaella is owned by the Orient Express company.

Orcaella is named for a breed of dolphin native to the Irrawaddy (a few of our guests were lucky enough to see some). The ship has three passenger levels. The two lower decks contain 25 cabins as well as the gorgeous dining area (more about that in a moment).

Most of the top deck is reserved for passenger comforts. It includes a wide-open space aft with plenty of room for lounging. The top deck also boasts an outdoor bar and an intimate indoor bar/lounge.

Forward is a small fitness center, with great equipment and a spa center (the massages are wonderful!). Farther forward still is the plunge pool and the brains of the whole operation, the bridge.

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IRT passenger Ron Fisher loved his super deluxe cabin suite aboard the Orcaella. This was perfect for reading, relaxing and gazing at the scenery.

The middle passenger deck contains two balcony suites forward, as well as five state cabins. The third deck contains the state and deluxe cabins, plus the reception area.

I saw all the cabins, and even the smallest (one of which Owen & I shared) is spacious, with floor-to-ceiling, sliding glass doors. The balcony suites are over-the-top luxurious. Their crowning feature is a private, outdoor sitting area, which affords a captain’s eye view forward as well as amidships.

The super deluxe cabins have a king-sized bed with a large sitting area, plus a huge storage area. The regular sized state cabins have all king-sized beds, walk-in closet, two great wicker chairs for admiring the river and large sliding glass doors.

 Our deluxe cabin had a king-sized bed (two twin beds also are available) ample bathroom and closet.

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IRT passenger David Minnerly talks with Orcaella Executive Chef Bansani Nawisamphan during lunch. Chef Nawisamphan happily accommodated diner’s special requests, such Mr. Minnerly’s Thai green curry.

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Art Deco accent in dining room

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Dining on the Orcaella is a peak experience. Tables for 2, 4, 6 or 8 are easily arranged. Here, IRT passengers from California, Idaho, Ohio and Belgium enjoy a meal.

Now, to the dining room, whose décor is as imaginative as the cuisine. A row of stately Buddha statues, and, nearby, a half-size sculpture of men carrying a heavy gong, greet diners outside the restaurant. Inside, the room is replete with antique statuary set into the room’s rear wall.

The room’s mixture of local and Continental décor mirrors Executive Chef Bansani Nawisamphan’s menus, an interplay between “Flavors of Asia” and table d’hote European cuisine.

Born in Thailand, the young Ms. Nawisamphan was “borrowed” by Orcaella from its older, larger cousin, the Orient-Express’ “Road to Mandalay,” which also plies the Irrewaddy.

Folk art from all over Myanmar graces Orcaella's public and private spaces.

Folk art from all over Myanmar graces Orcaella’s public and private spaces.

An Asian entrée might include “oriental marinated grilled chicken skewer served with curry peanut sauce” or “deep fried Myanmar sea bass in spicy sweet & sour sauce and steamed bok choy.”

Or, if one so chose, he could opt for “chef cured salmon with fennel salad, orange & lime dressing with herb cheese and caviar,  Australian beef tenderloin or oven-baked duck breast with stir-fried vegetable, spinach served with local honey and orange sauce.”

Well, you get the idea. Everything is over-the-top splendid and guaranteed to make you indulge. As our travelers said about the ship: “WOW!” and “They can’t do enough for you.”

And did I mention? Chef Nawisamphan gladly will make anything you like, provided that she can procure the ingredients and that you give her sufficient time.

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Most nights, following dinner, we enjoyed local entertainment on the top deck: dancers and musicians, a traditional puppet show, an amazing young woman risking life and limb while toe-tapping a “cane ball,” a ceremonial elephant dance and – don’t want to spoil this for you – an incredible “surprise” about which I’ll say no more.

And, as if all the above weren’t enough, for those whose DNA requires an internet connection, the ship has WiFi (albeit with limited band width).

Plus every room has a flat-screen TV, which after watching for 5 minutes, Owen and I decided we didn’t need. There was a much better show outside our window.

And herein lies the best part of the Orcaella on-board experience: the ship is an unbeatable platform from which to admire the people and scenery of Myanmar.

View from our cabin window.

View from our cabin window.

Most mornings upon wake-up, Owen and I had coffee or cappuccino delivered to our room. Then, as we sat propped up in bed, we’d draw the curtains to watch the ever-changing scene: little fishing boats tootling past, great barges churning upstream, people bathing at the river banks, others loading containers of water onto their oxcarts, plus a constant parade of golden-domed pagodas.

And, as we interacted with the staff and, even more so, as we went ashore and encountered the remarkably friendly Burmese people, we felt privileged to be getting a glimpse of Myanmar’s awakening into the 21st century.

To go ashore and meet the people of Myanmar, please click here.

For a link to the journey, please see: http://www.irtsociety.com/journeyDetail.php?id=198

Royal Rajasthan: Great Food, Service, Tours; But Luxurious It Is Not (And Drop the Shopping)

22 Mar

Editor’s Note: Thank you for this great post by our traveler, Robert Shelton of Houston, TX., who traveled on this train in February, 2012.

Royal Rajasthan staff member welcomes travelers on board. IRT Photo by Robert Shelton

If you are searching for an efficient and comfortable tour of the sights surrounding Delhi, the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels‘ Classical India Journey may be your answer.   In seven days you can explore the numerous temples and forts, varied landscapes and diverse cultures throughout the colorful states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Also included are a fascinating exploration of the wonders of life along the holy Ganges River and a tour of the Taj Mahal.

Royal Rajasthan on Wheels cabins include private sink, toilet & shower. RROW Photo

On board the Royal Rajasthan you will find adequate accommodations for your trip, including two dining cars and a spa car. Though marketed as a new train, the Royal Rajasthan is at best “newly refurbished” with fresh paint, new linens and updated bathrooms.  Luxury and modern amenities, such as in-room entertainment and individual temperature controls, are notably absent.

The train's two diners serve Rajasthani, Indian, continental and Chinese cuisines. RROW Photo

The food on board is excellent, with multiple Continental and Indian offerings each day.  The service is equally as impressive.  The room attendants are at your beck and call 24/7. They’re also available to accompany you for most memorable jaunts outside the standard itinerary. The spa car has a treadmill and two stationary bikes.  Basic massages, facials and mani/pedis are very inexpensive; however, expect the ambiance and quality of a 2- or 3-star spa.

The itinerary is varied and packed full. However, too much time is dedicated to “forced shopping” in overpriced boutiques with merchandise that is widely available back home.  Seasoned travelers will be highly annoyed with the train managers’ excuses and insistence on visiting these shops.  If you wish to avoid them, insist on an early return to the train and then promptly collect your room attendant for a “tuck-tuck” adventure to local markets and other off-the-beaten-path sights.

Regardless of the train’s shortcomings, the Royal Rajasthan does provide a broad exposure to some of Northern India’s best historical and cultural sights.  Just make sure luxury is not your top criteria.

“Sprie” Spriestersbach: THE International Railway Traveler

27 Apr

It is with great sadness that we report the death of  D.C. Spriestersbach, one of the most senior members of The Society of International Railway Travelers®. He died on Monday. He had been a member of The Society of IRT for more than 20 years. (He is pictured above with Owen Hardy, IRT Society CEO & Publisher.)

“Sprie,” as he asked everyone to call him, was 94, and was Dean Emeritus of the University of Iowa. He passed away after a brief illness, after a happy week visiting with three generations of his family including his twin 7-year-old great-grandchildren. He lived in his beloved Iowa City, IA, home until his death.

He started traveling with The Society in 1997 and soon became known as a most charming and affable traveler. He booked 16 of the greatest train trips in the world, from the tiny Darjeeling Himalayan Railway to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. He made the longest rail journey in the world—twice—on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express.

Indeed, Sprie traveled thousands of miles with us on trains. Some of our happiest memories traveling are with Sprie, because he was always so fun, upbeat and modest. He loved The Blue Train, the Hiram Bingham, Andean Explorer, Rovos Rail, Trans-Siberian and Venice Simplon-Orient Express.

But hands-down, his favorite was the Royal Scotsman, which he enjoyed for a second time on a Society group tour. He’d first ridden it with his wife, Bette, grandson Matthew Swain and Matthew’s wife Sasha.

“I think the Royal Scotsman has to be at the top,” Sprie told me. “Better than the Blue Train, it was fantastic. They were absolutely marvelous and without being quite as self-conscious…they were easy. They were so good, so authentic and so skilled…it is hard to explain…my grandkids couldn’t believe that you could have a train trip like that.”

Sprie paid Owen and me the ultimate compliment following his last trip with us on our 25th anniversary trip across Siberia on the Golden Eagle. Raising his glass to us at our post-tour celebratory dinner in Moscow, he said he loved traveling with The Society of IRT.  “These people seem to care about their travelers. I mean really care.”

“I think those were some of the happiest times of his life, riding those trains,” said his daughter, Ann Swain, after he died. “You’ve got to know how much he loved going on those trips.”

George Stratton, his best friend for 34 years, said after his career of teacher, administrator, researcher, director of a literacy program, acting university president for 8 months was over, Sprie turned his full focus on traveling the world by train. He was always happiest knowing a grand journey was around the corner. In the last year, “sometimes we would talk about the trips: Which was your favorite? He loved them all.”

A memorial service will be on May 15. Please click here to link to the details.  And please post if you remember traveling with Sprie. We’d love to hear from you.

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