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A Tale of a Sea Cloud Voyage: The Magic Was in the Sailing

15 Nov
The Sea Cloud's distinctive square sails billow against a cloud-filled sky. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

The Sea Cloud’s distinctive square sails billow against a cloud-filled sky. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

When Cathy Jackson entered her Sea Cloud cabin, she burst into tears.

“Don’t you like your room?” implored the steward. “You don’t like the white?”

Quite the contrary, she replied. “I love it! I feel as if I were inside a wedding cake!”

Her husband Clay had surprised her with Cabin No. 1, the lavish personal quarters of none other than Marjorie Merriweather Post.  Cathy said she felt like a princess.

Sea Cloud sailors climb the ratlines. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

Sea Cloud sailors climb the ratlines. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

The Sea Cloud is that kind of ship: a one-of-a-kind fairy tale masterpiece of marine design. Built in 1931 and still going strong, the four-masted bark is the world’s last authentic square-rigged luxury sailing yacht.

Since I am an old sailor, I jumped at the chance to sail the Sea Cloud, and arrange for a lively group of Society of International Railway Travelers guests to join us. It was a huge success.

Our route was a dream: from Dubrovnik, Croatia down the Dalmatian Coast to Athens, Greece.  We sailed the Adriatic, the Ionian and the Aegean seas. But it was the ship itself that lured me away from my familiar railway haunts.

As befitting a multi-millionaire’s yacht, the Sea Cloud is a work of art on water. And the 84-year-old, 360-foot sailing ship is surprisingly comfortable as well.

From the smallest cabin to the 8 original “guest cabins” below decks to the two owners’ suites – the aforementioned white-and-gold Mrs. Post confection and the darker, decidedly masculine quarters of Marjorie’s then husband, E.F. Hutton – most were masterpieces of planning as well as décor.

Our twin-bedded room had ample storage space in a variety of lockers, and bureaus and under the beds as well as a large hanging closet — with 22 hangers.

Detail from Sea Cloud Cabin No. 1 — Marjorie Merriweather Post's personal suite. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Detail from Sea Cloud Cabin No. 1 — Marjorie Merriweather Post’s personal suite. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The marble bathroom was small but efficient. It had multiple brass towel racks, pegs and hooks, ample storage space under the sink for toiletries, and a powerful shower that rivaled most on land.

The food also was ample and delicious, reflecting the cuisines of the areas through which we passed: Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece.

Fresh-from-the-seas fish, octopus, calamari, shrimp, scampi and more – not to mention the freshest salads and local cheeses and fruits were staples of the cruise.

A smoked ham, for example, came straight from a smokehouse atop Montenegro’s mountains. The Croatian wines — both whites and reds — were fabulous.

No one possibly could have gone hungry. Nor could they complain about the very well-stocked bar on the lido deck.

“Bebot” Roldan, a 33-year Sea Cloud veteran, is a master “mixologist.” And he’d stocked his bar with many a premium spirit, including “Carlos Primero,” a favorite brandy of IRT’s guests Olga & Orlando Herrera and José and Maria Becerra Martin. Their fame for warm hospitality and friendship quickly spread to our entire group (we were 14 in all).

Sea Cloud crew member cleaning up in the galley after lunch. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Sea Cloud crew member cleaning up in the galley after lunch. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The Orient-Express of the Seas is how I’ve described the Sea Cloud, based on its rich history and stunning décor. But the similarity also can be seen in the professionalism of the personnel.

The Sea Cloud’s captain and crew, coupled with the dedication of the Lindblad team, made for an even more seamless experience.

When the young deck hands weren’t scampering up the rigging to set the sails, they were varnishing, painting and repairing, and doing the thousands of other tasks sailors have done for centuries. And they did it all with smiles and enthusiasm.

Meal and cabin service was equally professional and warm. And it would be hard to find anyone more enthusiastic than Tom O’Brien, the congenial and professional Lindblad expeditions leader, who seemed to live and breathe the romantic life of square-rigged sailing.

The Sea Cloud is a remarkably stable ship. We encountered rough seas one or two times. But her relatively small size – she carries a maximum of just 64 passengers – means she can duck into coves and inlets too shallow for the big cruise ships.

We covered an amazing amount of territory in just 10 days. We visited quaint villages, vibrant harbors and a host of World Heritage Sites from ancient Greek and Roman times. (Click here for our itinerary.)

The Sea Cloud as seen from the ramparts of Dubrovnik's city walls. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The Sea Cloud as seen from the ramparts of Dubrovnik’s city walls. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Best of all were the voyage’s final two days, which were reserved for “pure sailing.” Captain Sergey Konstantin ordered his men aloft to set our principal square sails. Suddenly, the ship’s auxiliary engines fell silent.

And there we were, much like the square-riggers of old: our bow cutting through the waves, the wake roiling from the stern and the ship’s standards snapping smartly in the stiff breeze.

For the strong-willed few who made it up to catch the sunrise (I did so only once), it was a magical sight to see the dawn come up over the Aegean with the ship under full sail.

The effect was mesmerizing. This was the way it used to be: in Marjorie Merriweather Post’s time – and for much of maritime history.

Reviews from Society of International Railway Travelers guests were raves. They’re not giving up their love of train trips — but they loved this ship.

“What a great trip!” said R. Fisher, of Arlington, Va., in an email earlier this week.

Sea Cloud lines. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Sea Cloud lines. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“I loved the shore excursions, as always…But the thing I’ll remember is being aboard that ship. And watching the sailors unfurl the sails, and the way the sails billowed and flapped. What a sight. It’s one I never expected to experience. All thanks to IRT.”

Comparing notes with others on board, I learned that most passengers booked the Sea Cloud one to two years before departure. We blocked space on the journey two years before our group journey, to give you an idea of the demand for space on the ship.

If you want to sample this amazing small-ship venue, please call us right away for 2021. 2020 is waitlist-only. Other itineraries on Sea Cloud — Dubrovnik-Naples, Sailing the Caribbean, more — have wider availability.

For more information, call 800-478-4881 (1-502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com. For more photos, click here.

New Year’s Eve in Vienna — It’s All About the Romance

30 Oct
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Waltz lesson at Vienna’s prestigious Elmauer Dance School located in the Palais Pallavicini. Learn to dance the Viennese Waltz at the city’s most famous dance school. It only takes an hour!

Prologue: We first published this interview in December, 2018.

Since then, the Danube Express has been voted the second-best train in the world by Condé Nast Traveler readers.

Even more compelling are the many glowing reports we’ve received from IRT travelers who were on the last departure:

“This was a fantastic trip that we thoroughly enjoyed.  The food, accommodations, and service were all great.  Everything was well-planned and ran on time. We loved the special private concerts: the opera singers in Prague, the string quartet at Municipal House, a trio playing at Cafe Slava.  The Four Seasons hotel was beautiful and at a great location in the city. And, we had plenty of time to eat, sleep, tour, and shop… I highly recommend this trip.” – IRT Traveler R. Stewart, January, 2019.

“We really, really, really enjoyed the trip. All of the staff are fabulous. They all go out of their way to make life easier and nicer. And New Year’s Eve was great — the food, dancing, everything. We would recommend it to anyone.” – IRT Travelers R. & P. Wynhoff, January, 2019.

So, take it from them, and from the following conversation with IRT CEO & Founder Owen Hardy. This is one spectacular itinerary!

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Excellent service on the Danube Express. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

We sat down with The Society of International Railway Travelers’ founder and CEO, Mr. Owen Hardy, to discuss his ardent desire to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Vienna with the Golden Eagle Danube Express. Tour dates are December 28, 2019 – January 5, 2020. Click here for itinerary details.

Mr. Hardy, please tell us why you “simply must” go on the “New Year in Vienna” trip on the Golden Eagle Danube Express?

Officially, I have four reasons: Budapest, Vienna, Prague and the Viennese New Year celebration.

Unofficially, movies. Specifically, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and Orson Welles’ “The Third Man.”

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Pictured left: diners enjoy New Year’s Eve gala dinner at Rathaus City Hall in Vienna.         Pictured right: a festive, snow-capped Vienna.

Say that again? These films aren’t your typical happy tourist fare.

I know, I know. But they exude a delicious atmosphere of romance, love and artistic grit that I project onto their respective cities.

You said recently that “Downton Abbey” was another of your “inspirational films.” Why?

It was the final scene, when practically the entire cast was waltzing in Downton’s gorgeous ballroom.

That’s exactly what’s going to happen on this tour. You’ll learn to waltz —in an hour! — at Vienna’s most prestigious Elmauer Dance School.

Then you’ll spend New Year’s Eve in one of the most exclusive locations in the city — the Grand ballroom of Vienna City Hall — where you’ll have a gala four-course dinner, musical entertainment and, of course, plenty of waltzing.

What about the train itself?

In my student years, I crisscrossed Europe with a Eurailpass, sleeping next to strangers in couchettes night after night. But these days, I like my creature comforts.

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Superior Deluxe cabins aboard the Golden Eagle Danube Express feature a private bathroom and shower with all the amenities, large double bed, and sitting area. Not pictured: private Wi-Fi that comes with every Superior Deluxe cabin.

A Superior Deluxe cabin (click here for full cabin details) with large double bed, fully en-suite bathroom and shower, and sitting area will do quite nicely — and the three included nights at Budapest’s palatial Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace won’t disappoint, either. (Tip: don’t miss the top-notch spa!)

And how about the food?

As a self-confessed coffee-and-pastry aficionado — I really am excited about the Danube Express‘s new hire, pastry chef, Krisztián Szőke.

Natasha Baker, Sales & Marketing Manager at Golden Eagle Luxury Trains (operator of Danube Express) recently told us that Szőke is chiefly responsible for expanding the waistlines of staff and guests alike with his confections and fresh-baked breads.

One specialty: Golden Eagle Chocolate Heaven, a concoction of dark chocolate mousse with Russian champagne, hazelnut crunch and dark chocolate caviar.

Need I say more?

Another highlight from the itinerary, in your opinion?

Prague! I love Prague because it overflows with stunning architecture. My last tour guide in Prague said she’d lived her whole life in the city but had only scraped the surface of its wonders. I believe her.

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Prague’s Charles Bridge at dawn.

More thoughts?

Already seen Schönbrunn Palace? Try a joy ride on Vienna’s trams instead. It’s a great way to meet people and — if you have time — to visit Vienna Central Cemetery, whose honored guests include Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Johann Strauss II.

So what should interested travelers do now?

Call us (if you’re a Luddite like me) at (800) 478-4881  — +1 502-897-1725 if outside the US / Canada. You can also email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Anything else you want to say (and make it short!)?

Life is short. Old age creeps up on you. Go waltzing in Vienna at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I guarantee you won’t regret it!


Owen C. Hardy is the CEO, founder, and co-owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

The New Year’s in Vienna tour runs December 28, 2019 – January 5, 2020. Click here for full itinerary details and pricing. Click here for details of the Golden Eagle Danube Express train.

To book your space on the New Year’s in Vienna tour, call (800) 478-4881 or +1 502-897-1725, or email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

 

Royal Canadian Pacific, N. America’s Only Luxury Sleeper Train, Returning!

10 Oct
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Enjoying the view from the Royal Canadian Pacific’s new dome car. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

The Royal Canadian Pacific is back — complete with a brand-new full dome car!

After a five-year hiatus, the luxury sleeper train plans to offer two departures to the public in June and July next year. A third exclusive IRT departure in September 2020 is also under consideration.

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Service with a smile on the RCP. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

I traveled to Calgary two weeks ago to inspect the train and learn more about its plans for the future.

My takeaway?

IRT travelers will delight in the RCP’s opulent 1920s-era carriages, with all en-suite cabins, comfortable reading nooks, and outdoor platforms sprinkled generously throughout.

Its professional, full-time staff and its five-star cuisine also will not disappoint.

And they’ll appreciate its historical bonafides (Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, and JFK & Jackie were all passengers).

Of course, the dramatic Canadian Rockies scenery is as lovely as ever—especially when viewed from the comfort of the brand-new glass dome observation car.

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Meringue with homemade Scottish shortbread and lavender honey — crowned with a Maple leaf. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

The novelty of a luxury sleeper train returning to North America will excite rail enthusiasts everywhere. We here at IRT predict high interest from travelers—especially confirmed luxury rail enthusiasts.

Ever since the RCP stopped offering public departures five years ago, the continent has been devoid of anything similar.

Itineraries are still being confirmed but will likely include a 5-day circle tour beginning and ending in Calgary. A 4-day Calgary-Vancouver tour also is being considered.

Both tours are expected to offer off-train activities in Golden, Banff, and Lake Louise. Pricing is also still under consideration.

Interested in joining an RCP 2020 luxury tour next year? Let us know now, and we’ll put you on our “First Notice” list.

Click here to register your interest, and we’ll contact you as soon as we have details.

Click here to read more about the Royal Canadian Pacific itself.

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The author outside the RCP’s new full-length dome car. IRT Photo by Nate Kremer

For more information, or to book any other of our journeys on the World’s Top 25 Trains, call us at (800) 478-4881, or +1 502-897-1725 if outside the US / Canada. You can also e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

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View from the rear platform of the Royal Canadian Pacific. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

 

Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada.  She was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Our agency is a proud member of Virtuoso.

Belmond Grand Hibernian Transports Guests Through Ireland, Land of Legends

13 Sep
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IRT Guests enjoy a jaunting cart ride, one of many excursions offered on Belmond Grand Hibernian journeys. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy.

Ever heard of Finn McCool?

How about the Salmon of Knowledge?

Neither had I — until I went to Ireland to ride the Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s only luxury train.

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Belmond Grand Hibernian’s lead bartender greets guests with champagne. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

The train’s gleaming blue and silver carriages, delightful staff and cozy interiors offer the perfect “magic carpet” ride through a fantastical land.

The excursions off the train are no less touched by fantasy.

When we arrived in Cork, for example, our guide greeted us with a cheerful “hallo,” and then launched into an evocative tale about the aforesaid Messrs. McCool and Salmon (of Knowledge).

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“Kindred Spirits,” the memorial to the Choctaw in County Cork. Photo by Gavin Sheridan. (no changes were made to image, link to license is https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Choctaw_Memorial.jpg)

She only paused in her myth-making to point out an interesting — albeit slightly incongruous — statue on the side of the road, comprising 20-foot steel feathers that form a bowl shape.

“The Choctaw Nation heard about our forebears’ plight during the Great Hunger of 1847,” she told us. “And they scraped together what little money they had, and sent it to us to feed our starving children.”

Unlike Finn McCool and his fish, the story of the Choctaw’s sacrifice is no fairytale. But I don’t think Ireland would be Ireland without a healthy mix of truth and make-believe.

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Belmond Grand Hibernian, now just finishing its third full season, has matured into an even more delightful experience than when it began operations three years ago.

One welcome tweak the tour operators have made is allowing guests to choose among different activities wherever possible. For instance, guests on the 7-day Grand Tour of Ireland can:

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Cobh, Ireland.

Visit the seaport of Cobh with a local historian, where millions of lives were permanently altered by the Atlantic crossing. Almost half of the 6 million Irish who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950 departed from this port.

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Ross Castle.

Explore Killarney National Park by jaunting cart and boat, where prophecy dictated that nearby Ross Castle was impregnable to outside forces unless a warship attacked from the lake — thought to be an impossible feat. Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads attacked just so in 1653 and took the castle, one of the last to fall in the Irish Confederate Wars.

(Another tidbit: Ross Castle’s first owner, O’Donoghue, is said to live at the bottom of the lake in a great palace, from where he keeps close tabs on the comings and goings of passerby.)

Witness a sheepdog demonstration in Galway and marvel at the shared language between man and beast, or explore the surreal Cliffs of Moher that soar 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

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Westport House.

Visit Westport House, built on the foundations of the Pirate Queen of Connacht’s castle. The Queen’s dungeons can still be seen today.

Tour the Medieval Mile Museum in Kilkenny, heart of Ireland’s ancient East. The museum is housed in a 13th-century church and contains artifacts dating back 800 years.

*****

In sum, whether you’ve visited the Emerald Isle before or not, Belmond Grand Hibernian will open your eyes to Ireland in a whole new way. In addition to its thoughtfully-planned itineraries, it also earns high points for its dedicated staff, fabulous food, and luxuriously comfortable spaces.

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The author poses with Belmond Grand Hibernian. IRT Photo by Nate Kremer.

And what of Mr. McCool and his erudite fish?

Legend has it that, as a young boy, McCool was asked to cook the Salmon of Knowledge for his druid mentor, who had finally caught it after years of failed attempts.

McCool burned his thumb while cooking the fish, put his thumb in his mouth to cool the hurt, and inadvertently consumed a drop of the salmon’s oils, instantly becoming the wisest man in the world.

*****

Belmond Grand Hibernian runs April-October and offers the 3-day Taste of Ireland, the 5-day Legends and Loughs, and the 7-day Grand Tour of Ireland.

2020 departures are available and are selling briskly.

To book your own adventure on the Belmond Grand Hibernian, call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

 

Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada.  She was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Our agency is a proud member of Virtuoso and the exclusive Belmond Bellini Club. Rachel’s trip on Belmond Grand Hibernian was part of the Bravissimo celebratory journey hosted by Belmond, held every year in honor of the world’s top Belmond agencies.

Grand Alpine Express: Stunning Vistas, Staggering Heights, Poignant Memories

19 Jul
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The Golden Eagle Danube Express.

The 11-day Grand Alpine Express on the Golden Eagle Danube Express is a blast from my past.

Let me explain: does anyone else harbor fond memories of being a young person abroad for the first time, hopping around on a Eurorail pass with 10 francs in your pocket? I know I do.

As a college student some 50 years ago, I made my first European train journeys to many of the places highlighted on the Grand Alpine Express itinerary.

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Route map of the Grand Alpine Express itinerary.

Budapest. Vienna. Zürich. The Semmering Pass. The tiny Achensee railway, the Tyrollean Alps. They were exciting, friendly and utterly beautiful.

(And make no mistake: the Golden Eagle Danube Express is no first-class commuter train. It’s held a spot on our World’s Top 25 Trains® list since its inception in 2015. In the past few years, it’s gotten even more luxurious with the addition of 12 ultra-spacious Superior Deluxe cabins, which IRT travelers especially love. Click here for more information about the Golden Eagle Danube Express itself.)

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The Swiss and Austrian Alps figure prominently on the Grand Alpine Express tour.

Over the course of my career, I’ve traveled by luxury train through Mexico, Africa, Russia, India, South America, China, Southeast Asia, the ‘Stans…and on and on.

All of these trips were over the top, exotic and unforgettable.

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Lake Bled in Slovenia, one of the stops on the Grand Alpine Express itinerary.

But recently, I’m craving a trip down memory lane — albeit in the comfort of a Superior Deluxe cabin — courtesy of the Grand Alpine Express!

Even if you don’t share my nostalgia, there are plenty of other reasons to go. Just take it from IRT traveler Mrs. J. Schiermeyer, who just returned from the May 2019 Grand Alpine Express journey in a Superior Deluxe cabin:

“There’s only one problem with this train,” Mrs. Schiermeyer said.

“Eventually, they make you get off. And I don’t want to get off!”

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Superior Deluxe cabin on the Golden Eagle Danube Express.

The Grand Alpine Express tour runs just once a year.

Tour dates are May 8-18, 2020.

For more information, and to book, please call (800) 478-4881 in the U.S. and Canada, +1 502-897-1725 elsewhere, or e-mail tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Space (especially in the coveted Superior Deluxe cabins) is limited.


Owen C. Hardy is the CEO, founder, and co-owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

 

Toasting a Classic: IRT Advisor Revisits the Belmond Royal Scotsman

21 Jun

 

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Making a grand entrance at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

 

Déjà vu washes over me as I walk into Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, where I am immediately greeted by a kilted, bewhiskered bagpiper straight out of central casting.

He leads me and other passengers to a red carpet running beside the gleaming carriages of the Belmond Royal Scotsman, where train manager Fred Laseen welcomes each of us aboard.

Dining staff pour forth to welcome us — more déjà vu. I sip a glass of sparkling wine as we pull away from the station.

I think back to the last time I was aboard this train…

*

It’s been 15 years since my 2004 journey on the Belmond Royal Scotsman — long before ‘Belmond’ was added to the name, actually.

And I am thrilled to report that the grand dame of the Scottish rails is more wonderful than ever.

What differences there are – the Bamford Haybarn Spa Car, added in 2017, reinvigorated interiors and textiles throughout – underscore the train’s commitment to evolving alongside the wants of its guests. Other elements – food quality and service –  have stayed exactly the same, much to my delight.

*

A staff member shows me to my cabin.

It’s a cozy affair, with twin beds configured in an “L” shape. It also sports a dressing table and stool with one locking drawer, full-length wardrobe, ceiling fan, and full bathroom with toilet, sink, shower, and towel warmer.

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Twin cabin on the Belmond Royal Scotsman. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Other amenities include robes, slippers, and Bamford toiletries. The arched ceilings, marquetry, and paintings of kilted soldiers of yore add subtle touches of old-school luxury.

I could nap in my comfortable quarters all day, but the party’s already started in the public cars.

*

I order a Lagavulin 16. It’s an extra-peaty single-malt Scotch whisky, which I enjoy in the brisk Scottish air from the open platform on the back of the observation car. (All drinks are included, so I recommend you try a range of the more unusual whiskys and cocktails.)

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Enjoying the fresh air from the observation platform. IRT Photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

Some time later, we are called to dinner. The dining car’s tables gleam with stark white linen and fine china and crystal, all embellished with the stately Great Scottish & Western Railway Company logo.

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Fine china, crystal, and and fresh flowers set the table on the Belmond Royal Scotsman. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Two of the four dinners on my journey are formal. Men are asked to wear dark suits at a minimum, although some opt for tuxedos or kilts, which can be rented locally in Edinburgh.  The splashes of tartan add greatly to the festive atmosphere. Women are asked to don cocktail attire.

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Formal dinner on the Belmond Royal Scotsman. IRT Photo courtesy of  Angela Walker.

The meals are exceptional. Carefully crafted by Glasgow native Mark Tamburrini, the train’s head chef since 2010, they feature local Scottish ingredients.

Two of my favorites: Scottish salmon with dill, cucumber and cauliflower, with a perfect horseradish sauce; and roasted scallops with chorizo and sweetcorn croquettes in a corn purée.

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One of the talented kitchen staff stops to admire her creation. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Wines are carefully paired with each course. And even for those non-wine lovers, the enthusiastic descriptions provided by staff member Matej are impossible to resist.

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Canapés served in the lounge car before dinner. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

For that matter, all of the 12 staff are exceedingly helpful and professional. Max, the head waiter, dutifully goes over the day’s menu with each passenger to ensure there are no dietary issues.

(Those with dietary issues are painstakingly accommodated. The vegetarians, gluten-free, and dairy-free eaters among us are delivered a modified version of each dish).

Want to discover your favorite Scotch whisky and learn more about the country’s local specialty? The indefatigable Jarryd will recommend one of the countless options on board.

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Guests dressed in traditional kilts before dinner on the Belmond Royal Scotsman. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

He and Matej tend the bar until the last passenger retires (which is sometimes not until the wee hours of the morning). Then — somehow—they’re up the next morning with coffee and tea to greet the earliest risers.

Last but not least is the Bamford Haybarn Spa Car, which I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. It made its debut two years ago.*

Stepping into the treatment room, I breathe in the lavender scent, and am transported into a cocoon of tranquility. Danielle, the on-board spa therapist, impressively manages the movement of the train while executing massages, facials, manicures and pedicures.  The gentle rocking further enhances the relaxing treatment.

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Enjoying the local specialty, whisky, before dinner. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

The after-dinner entertainment in the observation car is another highlight. Colin and Iain, two cheeky chaps playing guitar and fiddle, encourage singalongs on our first night.

On our second night, Highlander Ray Owens brings to life the history of Scotland with his impressive storytelling.

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The Belmond Royal Scotsman at Strathcarron. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

And on the final evening, Brian and Allison play the keyboard and violin before inviting guests onto the platform, where they teach us reels and jigs. It is a fitting, fun, and joyous end to our journey.

A few things have changed in the 15 years since my first trip – new faces, a spa car, updated finishings – but the high standards of food, service and comfort are the same.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll be so lucky as to revisit the Belmond Royal Scotsman again in 2034.

*The Belmond Royal Scotsman’s spa car makes it one of only three luxury trains in the world to boast similar spa cars. The other two are the Deccan Odyssey in India and the Belmond Andean Explorer in Peru.

Stay tuned for my next blog about off-train activities on the Belmond Royal Scotsman. Click here to subscribe to our blog.

Ready to book your own adventure on the Belmond Royal Scotsman?

Click here to complete our online booking form, or call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 501-897-1725 if outside the US / Canada). Or e-mail us: tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

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Angela Walker is a 20-year veteran of The Society of International Railway Travelers. She is VP, Operations, for IRT, and a luxury travel advisor. She has been on most of our World’s Top 25® Trains, some — like Belmond Royal Scotsman — more than once.

 

 

 

Exotic Luxury Train Tour: A Caspian Odyssey with Angela

28 Sep
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Photo courtesy of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains.

Mt. Ararat (above), reputed resting place of Noah’s Ark, towers over Yerevan, Armenia. It’s the jumping-off point for the Caspian Odyssey Along the Ancient Silk Road tour.

The 16-day tour visits Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan — and includes a ferry crossing of the Caspian Sea.

It’s one of the Golden Eagle luxury train’s most exotic tours.

IRT’s Angela Walker, Vice President for Operations, accompanied a group of our travelers on the Caspian Odyssey several years ago.

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Photo courtesy of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains.

Below, we present a few of Angela’s photos and impressions:

The Golden Eagle — with its young staff —was a comfortable home for our journey through six countries and cultures. It provided all the comforts of home — and plenty of vodka!

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IRT Photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

My fellow travelers were high-spirited and great fun. Here we are in Samarkand, wearing traditional Uzbek hats during a local fashion show.

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IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

I snapped this photo of a darling little girl during a serendipitous moment in Ashkabat, Turkmenistan.

During a regular tour stop, a wedding party suddenly pulled up honking in several decorated cars. Dressed in colorful costumes, they danced and celebrated as they happily welcomed us to join in. It was wonderful to interact with the locals in such a special way.

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IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

In Almaty, Kazakhstan, next to the WWII memorial, I spied these adorable children mimicking the marching soldiers.

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IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

In the hills outside of Almaty, we were greeted by men in traditional costumes showing how they use their birds for hunting.

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IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

These four delightful ladies in our group were friends from Peru and Argentina. Here, they enjoy the train’s lounge car—especially its lively pianist, who entertained nightly.

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IRT Photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

Here I am visiting “The Door to Hell” — a gigantic gas crater in the middle of Uzbekistan’s Kara Kum desert, which has been burning for over 40 years.

It was so exciting to drive out to the Darvaza gas crater, in the pitch-black night, to see this site — essentially, a giant hole of fire burning in the middle of nowhere.

And to know that it’s been burning since 1971 — I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world!

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IRT photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

Home, sweet home. After a day of touring along the Caspian Odyssey’s incredible path, it was always great to return to the Golden Eagle and my private, en-suite quarters.

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IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Time for a refreshing drink! In this case, a sampling of one of the Golden Eagle’s special vodkas.

• • •

The 16-day, escorted tour operates just once a year. Next year’s dates are Sept. 19 – Oct. 4. In 2020, the tour runs Sept. 24 – Oct. 9.  If you book the 2020 journey before Dec. 31 this year, enjoy 2019 pricing.  

To see the complete itinerary, click here. For prices, click here.

To book, call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us.

We look forward to welcoming you aboard!

Angela Walker is Vice President, Operations and senior luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers. This is Ms. Walker’s 20th year with IRT, and she has traveled on most of the World’s Top 25 Trains.

 

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