Tag Archives: Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian

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

HappyCamper

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.”

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

 

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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!”

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    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.”

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    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: tourdesk@irtsociety.com Or vist our web site: http://www.irtsociety.com

Society of IRT Wins Gold, Silver Travel Weekly Magellan Prizes

26 Sep
Italian_Nuns

A cheerful group of Italian nuns, returning from a holiday at Venice’ Santa Lucia Station, were delighted to see the gleaming Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.  They celebrate the fun of taking the train and its universal appeal. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The Belmond Grand Hibernian, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, The Silk Road…the names connote mystery, romance and luxury.

And, artfully displayed as vintage travel posters, they won a 2015 Travel Weekly Gold Award for The Society of International Railway Travelers®.

The Society also won a Silver Award for its lavish, 100-page tour book, The IRT Society’s Best-Loved Railway Journeys.

IRT_Tourbook

“The IRT Society’s Best-Loved Railway Journeys 2014-2015” won a 2015 Travel Weekly Silver Award.

“The Magellan is the award to win if you’re in the travel business,” Travel Weekly says. This brings to 17 the number of Magellan Awards garnered by the Society.

IRT 2015 Hibernian Postcd LR

IRT celebrated the exciting news of the world’s newest luxury train, Ireland’s Belmond Grand Hibernian, with this poster.  Service is scheduled to begin in August, 2016. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; Photo courtesy of Blarney Castle, Ireland.

The Society shared the honor with such industry leaders as Lindblad Expeditions, Seabourn, National Geographic and Micato Safaris.

“From design to marketing to services, The Travel Weekly Magellan Awards honor the best in travel and salutes the outstanding travel professionals behind it all,” the award sponsors said. “It’s the Oscars of the travel industry.”

MGW Logo copyThe Society of International Railway Travelers® salutes graphic artist Stephen Sebree, owner of Moonlight Graphic Works, who has been collaborating with IRT Society Founder and CEO Owen Hardy for 32 years.

“Steve’s vision and creativity perfectly capture the mystery and romance of luxury rail travel,” Hardy said. “He has been integral to our success.”

Below, we proudly display several of the other winning Gold Award entries.

IRT 2015 Silk Rd Postcd LR

The Society of IRT celebrated its 30th anniversary with the 3-week, 2-train extravaganza, “The Silk Road,” stretching from Beijing through Central Asia and ending in Moscow. Owen Hardy spotted this calligrapher while strolling through the Summer Palace in Beijing. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

IRT 2015 Danube Postcd LR copy

Big news from Europe came last year in the form of the newly recommissioned Golden Eagle Danube Express as a true luxury train. IRT’s Angela Walker loved the new elegant feel of the dining room. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Angela Walker

IRT 2015 Maharaja Postcd LR copy

Keeping track of the world’s luxury trains is a full-time job.  IRT’s Angela Walker traveled to India to capture the magic. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Angela Walker

While wandering the streets of Florence, Italy, Owen and Eleanor Hardy heard this captivating violinist long before seeing him. This poster celebrates the beauty and humanity of travel on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. It has long held its spot on The Society of IRT's World's Top 25 Trains® list. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Owen Hardy.

While wandering the streets of Florence, Italy, Owen and Eleanor Hardy heard this captivating violinist long before seeing him. This poster celebrates the beauty and humanity of travel on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. It has long held its spot on The Society of IRT’s World’s Top 25 Trains® list. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Owen Hardy.

Wondering how you can get these beautiful posters and postcards? Unfortunately, they’re not for sale.

But they are given as small gifts to our guests. Please inquire how you can become one!

For more information on the Society’s luxury rail tours, as well as travel off the rails on other romantic icons such as the square-rigged sailing yacht Sea Cloud, please call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725; email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Society Wins 4 Top Awards

21 Oct
Society of IRT 2011 Tour Book

Gold Award winner. Society President Eleanor Hardy appears on cover of the IRT Society's Best-Loved Railway Journeys 2011. Mrs. Hardy is dining aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. IRT photo by Owen Hardy

The Society of International Railway Travelers®, in business for 28 years selling deluxe and luxury rail travel world-wide, has garnered four top national marketing awards for 2011.

The Society won three Gold Magellan Awards and one Silver Magellan Award, a prestigious travel industry honor sponsored by Travel Weekly, a trade publication and travel media company. The Society of IRT is the only rail specialist to win a Magellan award.

“It’s great news, especially considering the travel industry giants we were up against,” including American Express Travel, Vacations.com and Expedia, said Eleanor Hardy, President. “I am proud that we have produced inspiring publications that encourage people to travel on beautiful trains.”

Gold Awards were announced for the Society’s website (www.irtsociety.com); Track 25, the Society’s blog (www.blog.irtsociety.com), and The IRT Society’s Best-Loved Railway Journeys 2011, a full-color, 60-page annual publication featuring luxury and deluxe rail tours world-wide. It features the World’s Top 25 Trains and the best journeys to take on them, and is full of first-hand reviews and reporting and photography from Society of IRT staff and members.

A full-page magazine ad promoting the Society’s World’s Top 25 Trains™ won a Silver award.

IRT Society web site

Gold Award Winner: Society of IRT website

Owen Hardy is the publisher of all IRT publications in print and on the web. Angela Walker, Vice President of Operations, is Associate Editor. Stephen Sebree, owner of Moonlight Graphic Works, is the graphic artist and designer for all print publications, ads and IRT logos. All live in Louisville, Kentucky in the United States. The rest of the Society of IRT team includes Mrs. Hardy, managing tour operations, and Margaret Langner, assisting in all areas of IRT operations, including setting up our blog.

Started in 1983 by Owen Hardy, a former Courier-Journal arts critic, the Society was one of the world’s first agencies specializing in international, high-end rail travel. The Society’s World’s Top 25 Trains™ list, begun in 2006, sets an international standard for luxury rail.

The Society’s list includes iconic names, such as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, as well as newcomers, such as India’s Maharajas’ Express.

Owen and Eleanor Hardy on the Blue Train

Owen and Eleanor Hardy on the Blue Train. IRT Photo

“We pride ourselves in having direct experience with the rail journeys we sell,” said Mrs. Hardy, who has personally ridden 20 of the Society’s World’s Top 25 Trains.

In recent years, the Society’s marketing truly has gone global, with new customers from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, China, the Philippines, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates.

We thank you so much for your support — and your news and feedback about your train trips.  That’s what really makes this happen.

For more information on the Society, please call toll-free (800) 478-4881 in the U.S. and Canada; (502) 454-0277 elsewhere, or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com. To see the complete list of 2011 Magellan Award winners, go to www.travelweeklyawards.com

Last Frontier: The Silk Road

22 Sep

(Editor’s note: Author Chris Card Fuller’s story about her 2007 Silk Road trip originally appeared in The International Railway Traveler® magazine, republished here with permission. Please note that although the itinerary is essentially unchanged, the tour operator no longer offers Heritage Class accommodations on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express.)

The Shangri-La Express travels in late afternoon sunlight. GW Travel Photo

A gust of wind chases autumn leaves around the pavement. The flash of yellow and gold leaves and purple heather in the intense sunlight comes as a surprise, considering that we’re wedged in between three deserts. I’m just about to catch the perfect video clip of the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express gliding into Dostyk, Kazakhstan.

We’re standing on the platform of Kazakhstan’s border town with China’s Xinjiang province. In 21 days, we will have covered almost 7,000 miles, from Beijing to Moscow, traversing some of the most inhospitable, lowest, hottest terrain on the planet. Until we actually catch some of the sand between our toes and view a dune from our perch on a camel’s back, the magnitude of our journey doesn’t begin to sink in.

Chinese waitress on the Shangri-La Express

Expert tea service - a warm welcome is part of this centuries-old art form. Photo © Chris Card Fuller

This is the famed Silk Route. We’re separated from the world by unforgiving deserts and mountain ranges–the Tian Shan, the Pamirs Karakorum and the Kopa Degh. And to get to places like Mary, Turkmenistan, by way of Samarkand and Bukara in Uzbekistan and Almaty in Kazakhstan, you must have the proper visas. Camels can walk across these borders easier than tourists. Traveling by private train is one of the few ways you can get there.

We greet 90 west-to-east passengers emerging from their shiny blue compartments of the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, assisted by smartly uniformed Russian railway car attendants. They’ve just finished the first half of their trek which began in Moscow with stops in Volgograd, Khiva, Samarkand, Bukara, Almaty and Tashkent, before switching trains with us to finish the second half of their voyage on ‘our’ train the Shangri-la Express. Ahead of them lies the Tarim Basin, the Gobi Desert, and the Mogao’s Buddhist caves, carved between 1,500 and 1,600 years ago. In Xian, 6,000 terracotta warriors await their arrival. They’ll finish up where we began – at the Peninsula Hotel in Beijing, China’s 21st century capital and home to the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Chris Fuller aboard the Trans-Siberian Express

The author's husband, Chris Fuller, relaxes in the dining car after a meal aboard the Trans-Siberian Express, one of two trains used on the Silk Road tour. Photo © Chris Card Fuller

East-bound passengers will be learning to use chopsticks just about the time that we’re getting comfy in a Kazakh yurt. In the flurry of video and picture-taking with Kazakstan’s neatly turned-out border guards, we gather up our plunder – silks from Xian and pashminas from Turpan – before boarding the Golden Eagle Express. The blue and gold compartments are a welcome sight: all three categories are comfortable: Heritage class with twin beds, Silver Class with a double bed, and additional overhead bunk, a private shower and toilet facilities, closet, and TV/Video/CD player. Gold Class offers a little more closet space and shower space than Silver Class plus easy access to the bar car and the Gold Dining Car. Generous serving of vodka, unlimited wine with meals served in crystal stemware, caviar and sturgeon for our welcome and farewell dinners, 24 hour coffee and tea service in our compartments – such luxurious details – can be distracting. We’re traversing the harshest of deserts and mountain passes in the protective cocoon of our air-conditioned private train.

Village luncheon hosts near Mary, Turkmenistan flank the author. Photo © Chris Card Fuller

Village luncheon hosts near Mary, Turkmenistan flank the author. Photo © Chris Card Fuller

If you think train travel over several thousand miles of desert might be boring, it isn’t…

Oasis towns like Turpan in Xinjiang, China are lush and brimming with vineyards. Poplar trees line the newly constructed asphalt Silk Road highway. In Samarkand, nothing is quite as exotic as the haute-couture-clad Uzbeki models tearing up the catwalk during our private fashion show in a merchant’s former private palace.

Almaty, Kazakhstan’s modern capital city, is the antithesis of rustic. It may be where the apple originated, but you’ll find more stretch limos here than apple orchards. We’re entertained in a carpeted yurt restaurant, but the performers sing arias just as proficiently as traditional folksongs.

A worker delivers a load of supplies for the train during one of the many stops between Lanzhou and Golmud. Photo by Angela Walker, IRT

A worker delivers a load of supplies for the Shangri-La Express during one of the many stops between Lanzhou and Golmud. Photo by Angela Walker, © IRT

Food in Central Asia is also a pleasant surprise. For local lunches and dinners, we’re served hearty soups, spiced meats and plentiful vegetables with rice pilaf and fresh pita bread. Most meals begin with a plate of pickled raw vegetables such as cucumbers and beets, local cheeses and olives. Sweet melons and dried fruits are specialties of these oases towns.

“We are the lowest, the hottest, and the sweetest place on earth,” is how Zeba, a Turpan resident guide, describes her oasis home in the Taklimakan desert. The desert offers up a few, but not all, of its secrets.

At the Urumchi Provincial museum in China’s Xinjiang province, we meet the ‘Loulan Beauty’. This blond-haired Indo-European petrified corpse was officially dated at 3,700-years-old, yet some archeologists believe she may be even older.

Crescent Spring

Surrounded by sand dunes, Crescent Spring appears like a mirage. Photo © Chris Card Fuller

The 2,300-year-old ruins of Jiaohe city near Turpan used to be a Han-era garrison town built to fend off northern marauders. This complex of carefully laid-out city streets has been described as “the largest, oldest and best-preserved earthen city in the world.”

I’m no history expert. My Tang and Han dynasty dates usually get twisted up in a knot, but of one thing, I’m dead certain: As soon as this trip ends, I’ll want to hop right back on the train and see it all again.

(When not traveling, Chris Card Fuller divides her time between Paris, France and Florida.)

For more information on the Silk Road tour, please click here.

Trans-Siberian Express Adds Luxurious Suites, Upgrades Restaurant Cars, Services

20 Aug

The Imperial Suite, newest and largest accommodations on the Golden Eagle (Photo by GW Travel)

Want to do the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express but worried about tight quarters?

Starting next year, you can book the new, extra-large Imperial Suite on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, the top private train in Russia and Central Asia.

The Golden Eagle train set will have one Imperial Suite, according to the train’s operator, GW Travel. The dining cars and services also are being upgraded.

The Imperial Suite measures 120 square feet and will boast a luxurious, fixed, king-sized bed and a dedicated sitting area with dressing table. It also will include a large en-suite shower, under-floor heating, individual air-conditioning, wardrobe, DVD/CD player, and two large picture windows.

Imperial Suite guests will receive a selection of complimentary drinks from the premium bar list, complimentary laundry service, and room upgrades to the next available category at selected hotels (depending on trip itinerary). They also will have the option of dining in-suite, attended by their private butler.

The wait staff on a Golden Eagle dining car in their new uniforms (Photo by GW Travel)

Meanwhile, the two dining cars on the train – 64-seats on each – have been redesigned to allow guests more space while simultaneously adding a central buffet area for some self-service breakfast items. New china and crystal and new staff uniforms will also be visible aboard the Golden Eagle next year.

The news we’re most excited about affects the entire train: improving communication on board and upping the level of service and the dining experience. The position of maitre d’ has been added to improve communication between the wait staff, kitchen, and passengers, and a new executive chef will introduce a new level of quality and presentation in the dining car menus. All of these are being implemented this season. We have a number of Society of IRT guests on board who will report when they return from Russia.

In addition to Russian, new Golden Eagle Maitre D’ Yekaterina Borovikova speaks fluent English and French. Photo by GW Travel

Other enhancements include new bathrobes and towels, new l’Occitane on-board toiletries, internet connections in the bar car, gift certificate and a coffee table memory book for all passengers, and new wireless headsets for off-train excursions.

Also, a champagne reception is being added for guests departing from Moscow’s Kazansky Station and, in Vladivostok, the “Far East Fleet Orchestra” will play for passengers on arrival and departure;

For Silk Road travelers, a reception will be held at Registan Square, and a light show will entertain guests in Samarkand.

To view the itineraries available on the Golden Eagle, please click here. For more information, call (800) 478-4881 in the U.S. and Canada, (502) 454-0277 elsewhere.

And if you’ve traveled on this train, let us know what you think.

World’s Top 25 Trains Luncheon at New York’s 21 Club April 1

25 Mar

Eleanor and Owen Hardy at Lake Baikal. The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express is behind them. IRT Photo

Join Owen & Eleanor Hardy, owners of The Society of International Railway Travelers®, to get the latest on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, India’s Toy Train and more. Please join us for a lovely and informative luncheon Friday, April 1 from noon to 2 p.m. at New York’s fabulous ’21 Club.’

Special guest and presenter: Ms. Marina Linke, of GW Travel, UK, whose company operates our tours through Russia, China, India, and the Silk Road route. Marina, born in Russia, has been with GW almost from the beginning and has been an integral factor in its success.

To get your invitation, click here.

Hope to see you in New York April 1.

Railway Journeys 2011: “Wish Book” for World’s Top 25 Trains

2 Feb

Society President Eleanor Hardy on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

The 60-page, all-color IRT Society’s Best-Loved Railway Journeys 2011™ is out the door, and I must say, we’re proud parents. (Download a PDF copy here.)

New for 2011:

We hope you’ll love the detail and photographs — 85% of them are from our staff and members.  We also hope you love the reporting, the detail, the facts. Enjoy!

Once you take a look, please let us know what you think. Is it useful, beautiful, inspiring?

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