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Titanic Visit Gets Personal on Ireland IRT Luxury Train Tour

21 Oct

Belfast, Northern Ireland’s “Titanic Experience” museum, one of the stops on the Belmond Grand Hibernian seven-day tour.

It’s not often you walk into a huge museum in a foreign country and find your great uncle’s story staring back at you.

It happened to me last month.

I was visiting the “Titanic Experience” in Belfast, Northern Ireland with a group of fellow Society of IRT travelers. Belfast, where the doomed “unsinkable” ship was built, was one of the stops on our Belmond Grand Hibernian journey.

My great uncle was Carlos F. Hurd, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the journalist who scored “the scoop of the century,” the museum said: he broke the story of the Titanic.

Here’s how it happened:


Carlos and Katherine Hurd vacationing in Naples following the “scoop of the century.” Photo courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Uncle Carlos and his wife Katherine were on the steamship Carpathia heading from New York to Europe for a vacation. Before they boarded, they made a friendly call to Charles Chapin, editor of the New York World, sister newspaper of the Post Dispatch, both Pulitzer newspapers.

The Carpathia set sail the same day the Titanic left Ireland. When the tragedy occurred, the Carpathia was first to the rescue.

And Uncle Carlos jumped into action.


IRT travelers John and Julia Cordukes pose in front of the Titanic Experience in Belfast, N. Ireland. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

He interviewed as many of the survivors as he could. Katherine helped too, interviewing female survivors.

But — wary of bad publicity — the Carpathia’s captain tried everything he could to prevent the story from being told.

He confiscated writing paper. He had their room searched. He ordered that no radio messages be delivered to or from my great uncle or his wife.

Katherine scrounged the ship for paper – even toilet paper. And she had to sit on their notes and hand-written stories in their second-class cabin, because the captain wanted to confiscate them.

But he did not count on having such a tenacious reporter on board.

Even though Uncle Carlos never received the radio messages from his boss or Editor Chapin, he knew what the Pulitzer men would say: “Interview all the survivors you can! Throw your story overboard to our tug in New York harbor.”

And that’s just what happened.


Society of IRT Founder & CEO Owen Hardy with Titanic Experience staff.

Uncle Carlos’ story ran 5,000 words. Family lore has it that he bundled it up, wrapped it in some kind of waterproof material, stuffed it into a cigar box crammed with champagne corks and secured it with string.

As the Carpathia entered New York harbor, tugboats brimming with newsmen — many shouting through megaphones —swarmed the liner. Among the throng, Uncle Carlos spied Chapin, the New York Pulitzer editor.

With sailors struggling to restrain him, Uncle Carlos pitched his story overboard. But the package fell short, landing in a Carpathia lifeboat. And the crew had been advised not to help reporters in any way.

But one sailor sided with Uncle Carlos and disobeyed orders! As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported: “ A Carpathia sailor freed it, and to the cheers of Titanic survivors, tossed it onto Chapin’s tug.”

By the time Uncle Carlos and his wife touched dry land, an abbreviated story in the New York World and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was already on the streets. And the next day, his complete, 5,000-page report took up three whole pages of the Post-Dispatch.

Uncle Carlos didn’t pull any punches. He bravely reported that the Titanic sped through the night at nearly full speed, that she was woefully short of lifeboats and that many passengers could not believe that disaster had struck.

titanicexperiece-2“The glassy sea, the starlit sky, gave them the feeling that there was only some slight mishap,” he wrote, “that those who got in the boats would have a chilly half-hour below, and might be laughed at.”

Uncle Carlos died before I was born – but he lived on in the many stories in my St. Louis, Missouri family. My mother adored him and quoted him constantly. He had a dry wit, sharp intellect and mild manner.

His story is a thriller – and we felt the “Titanic Experience” told it well.

To see a St. Louis Post-Dispatch video on Uncle Carlos and the Titanic, click on the link below:

For more information on the Belmond Grand Hibernian, please click here or call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725; email


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:


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.


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 or call: 800-478-4881 or 502-897-1725.  Find us on the web at



IRT On Luxury Safari

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

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.

DSC_0297 (1)

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.


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.


          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.


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!


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.



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: Or vist our web site:

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!


Silk Road Snapshot

22 Apr

The oasis of Crescent Lake at Dunhuang, China.

Spanning five countries – China, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Russia – on two trains – the first class Shangri-La Express and the luxury Golden Eagle – the Silk Road is for many of our travelers the most adventurous and best-loved “journey of a lifetime.”ShLaExpr1955


IRT traveler David Minnerly enjoying the Golden Eagle’s dining car. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

We spoke with Society of International Railway Travelers President Eleanor Hardy about her recollections from her 2013 Silk Road adventure.

The Shangri-La Express: “Hands-down the best train in China – but we do not consider this a luxury train! The food, service, and entire experience was considerably upgraded since the last time we’d experienced it. And there is no better way to see these out-of-the-way destinations.”

The Golden Eagle: “The Imperial Suites – two to a train – are worthy of their name. Staff is exceedingly accommodating, friendly, and some are bilingual.”


One of two Imperial Suites on the Golden Eagle. Bonus: these spacious accommodations also include private English-speaking guide. Photo by Golden Eagle.



Family picnics on the shores of Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy.

  • BEIJING: “The sprawling Summer Palace grounds are populated by friendly picnicking Beijingese families — large clusters of grownups surrounding one or two “Little Emperors” or “Empresses.” This is a major tourist attraction that still maintains a distinctly local flavor.”

    The Mogoa Thousand Buddha Complex. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

  • DUNHUANG: “The Magao Thousand Buddha Cave Complex is a must-see. The wildly colorful frescoes and massive statuary are visually stunning — and are important reminders of the vital role the Silk Road trade route played in spreading culture and religion in addition to fine cloth and spices.”
  • SAMARKAND: “You have to visit Registan Square at least twice – once by day and once again by night. The blues in the architecture here are magnificent, and the way the Square lights up at night is spectacular!”

    IMG_1818 - Men w Gengis Hole

    IRT travelers in front of the “Genghis Hole” of Merv. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

  • MERV: “Unbelievably well-preserved evidence of 12th century warfare: huge holes in the sides of the castle where Genghis Khan directed his catapults. Close by, the house where the king’s daughters jumped to their deaths to escape the approaching horde.”


    Textiles in the markets of Khiva. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

  • KHIVA: “Stunning madrasas, minarets, and bazaars. The markets here made for excellent shopping: richly embroidered textiles, colorful pottery, and ornate jewelry were plentiful.”
  • MOSCOW: “Tours of the Kremlin, Red Square, and St. Basil’s were thrilling – but we all agreed that our night at the Bolshoi Ballet was THE experience we would always remember from Moscow.”

2016 Dates: Sept. 19-Oct. 10 (Moscow-Beijing), Sept. 23-Oct. 13 (Beijing-Moscow)
2017 Dates: Sept. 22-Oct. 13 (Moscow-Beijing), Sept. 26-Oct. 16 (Beijing-Moscow)

Interested in joining one of our Silk Road departures? Space fills up early and quickly for this twice-a-year journey. Call us: (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Email us: Or vist our web site:

Pounce Like a Leopard for Luxury Rail Africa 2016, 2017

15 Apr

©The Society of International Railway Travelers® Poster design by Stephen Sebree, Moonlight Graphic Works


Dreaming of an African luxury train vacation?

Better shake a leg. Here’s what’s still available this year and next on Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa, one of our favorite trains anywhere:


African Collage (9 days)

  • May 19-27, Pretoria to Cape Town – 4 Deluxe Suites
  •  Nov. 14-22, Cape Town to Pretoria – 2 Deluxe Suites

Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam (15 days)

  • July 2-15 – 2 Deluxe Suites
  • Sept. 24-Oct. 8 – 1 Deluxe Suite

Dar Es Salaam to Cape Town (15 days)

  • July 19-Aug. 2 – 1 Deluxe Suite

©The Society of International Railway Travelers® Poster design by Stephen Sebree, Moonlight Graphic Works


Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam (15 days)

  • July 1-15 – 1 Deluxe Suite
  • Sept. 30-Oct. 15 – 1 Deluxe Suite, 2 Pullmans

Dar Es Salaam to Cape Town (15 days)

  • July 18-Aug. 1 – 2 Deluxe Suites, 2 Pullmans
  • Oct. 17-31 – 2 Pullmans

Namibia (9 days)

  • April 16-24, Swakopmund to Pretoria – 2 Deluxe Suites, 2 Pullmans
  • April 27-May 5, Pretoria to Swakopmund – 2 Deluxe Suites
  • May 7-15, Swakopmund to Pretoria – 2 Deluxe Suites, 2 Pullmans

African Collage (9 days)

  • May 18-26, Pretoria to Cape Town, 2 Deluxe Suites, 2 Pullmans
  • Nov. 13-21, Cape Town to Pretoria, 2 Deluxe Suites, 2 Pullmans

©The Society of International Railway Travelers® Poster design by Stephen Sebree, Moonlight Graphic Works

As long as you’re in Africa, don’t miss an overnight on the Blue Train. Totally different from Rovos Rail, but also a luxurious dream, it runs between Cape Town and Pretoria.

To get a great DVD about Rovos Rail (free within the U.S. and Canada), or for more info, send us an email.

Or call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725.  You can also fill out a booking form on our website.


Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Soon to Unveil Its 2017 Schedule

7 Apr
Dining Car 4110 "Etoile du Nord"

Marquetry panel from dining car 4110 “Etoile du Nord” VSOE Photo

The train whose name whispers “elegance” — the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) — opened for its 35th season several weeks ago.

As always certain trips sell out more quickly than others. The longer, once-a-year Istanbul trips — Paris-Istanbul and Istanbul-Venice — always are in short supply.



Detail from VSOE diner “L’Oriental,” with Chinese lacquered walls. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Success in Booking the Orient-Express

“Those truly interested in an Istanbul trip need to plan far in advance,” says IRT’s president, Eleanor Hardy. “We’re taking names for fall, 2017.” (Contact us now to get on the ‘list.’) If the past is any indication, next year’s trips should be announced soon.

Other limited runs include:  Venice-Prague-Paris-London, Venice-Vienna-Paris-London and Venice-Budapest-Paris-London.  Also popular with IRT guests: IRT’s Romantic Italian Holiday, which includes the VSOE between London or Paris and Venice.

Then come two nights each at over-the-top, five-star hotels: the Hotel Cipriani in Venice and the Villa San Michele in Florence. Both are operated by Belmond (as is the VSOE).

In other news, the VSOE has air-conditioned its three dining cars as well as its bar car, which also has been redecorated.

And Head Barman Walter Nisi has added tantalizing specialties to his bar menu. See the full story here.

For more info or to book, send an email, call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Or book directly from our website.




Golden Eagle Danube Express Introduces Snazzy New Bar Car

19 Feb
Bartender in GE Danube Express bar car

Bartender hard at work in the Golden Eagle Danube Express’ new bar car. Golden Eagle photo

The Golden Eagle Danube Express now boasts a stylish, new bar car — making travel on the train even more enjoyable. It began service late last season.

Unlike the luxury train’s former lounge car, the new car has an actual bar area, says Golden Eagle’s Ian Lomas.

“There is a piano central to the car and various types of seating arrangements — tables and chairs for two and four, plus sofas and bar stools.”

The car seats 30, Mr. Lomas says.

“That ties in with the size of the overall group on board the Danube Express, so it’s not much problem for guests to get seating. And not everyone is in the bar car at the same time.”

Enjoying music in the bar car.

IRT Society guest Jack Swanberg enjoys music in the Danube Express’ previous lounge car on last year’s Venice-Budapest “Balkan Odyssey” tour. IRT Photo by Angela Walker


Operating from its home base in Budapest, the GE Danube Express is a “supremely comfortable train,” says IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy, “And the lounge car always has been a big reason for its congenial ambiance.”


The new GE Danube Express lounge car features tables for two and four, as well as sofas and bar stools. Golden Eagle photo

“But more seating and an actual bar will make a good thing even better.”

Ms. Hardy has ridden the Danube Express twice: from Istanbul to Budapest, and from Warsaw to Budapest.

“But what I’d really like to do is the Budapest-Venice trip, the Balkan Odyssey,” she says. “The itinerary fascinates me.”

The tour offers “so much in a relatively short amount of time — on some days visiting two countries,” said  IRT’s Angela Walker, who made the trip with a Society of International Railway Travelers group last year.

And the history of the region is fascinating, she says. Example: guests see the place where Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated — the event that ignited World War I.

Danube Express Bar Car Menu

Danube Express bar car menu. Most drinks are covered in the fare. Golden Eagle

The 12-day, 8-country Balkan Odyssey tour operates June 1-12 and July 4-15 this year. To download a complete itinerary in PDF format, please click here. To see the itinerary on the IRT society website, please click here.

Other Golden Eagle Danube Express tours include Central Europe & Transylvania and the Venice-Istanbul Balkan Explorer.

For more information, call our office at (800)478-4881, or (502) 897-1725. Email:



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