Tag Archives: luxury rail tours

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.

 

223a7de6-5eb0-4890-a1a3-3420c4f7ddf8

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.

 

 

 

JR Kyushu’s Little ‘Sweet Train’ Big on Beauty, Fun, Good Taste

8 Jan
Oita 2 (1)

The Sweet Train glides through Oita Prefecture. Photo courtesy of JR Kyushu

One of JR Kyushu’s newest railway confections is the Aru Ressha,  or Sweet Train. It’s one of a dozen special trains dreamed up by the creative minds of railway officials on Japan’s southernmost island.

While on my quest to experience JR Kyushu’s luxurious and wildly popular Seven Stars, I was hoping also to ride the Sweet Train — also a star in its own right. It’s a post-tour option on our very popular “Seven Stars Over Japan” luxury tour.

http://www.irtsociety.com/journeyDetail.php?id=230

IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Like its “big sister,” the Sweet Train sells out months in advance.

Several weeks before my departure on Japan Air Line’s Chicago-Tokyo flight, I received the email I’d been hoping for:

“Good news!” wrote Simon Metcalfe, director of international sales for JR Kyushu’s Seven Stars train. “There’s been a cancellation on the Sweet Train. You and I will be going from Sasebo to Nagasaki.”

Several weeks later, Simon and I were standing on the Sasebo Station platform. The Sweet Train had arrived, and the place was bustling.

DSC_0623

Service is friendly, and the design is sumptuous, on the Sweet Train. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“We recommend doing the Sweet Train before the Seven Stars,” Simon told me, as the Seven Stars’ level of service and amenities are superior.

But as a visiting foreigner (and American, where rail service is sparse), I found every aspect of the Sweet Train beguiling.

For what it is — a little more than two-hour ride with light lunch and four courses of desserts as beautiful as they are tasty — the Sweet Train is a must-do option if you get anywhere near Kyushu. The train’s design, food, service and scenery are superb.

And its history — which surprisingly involves the USA at the turn of the last century — is fascinating.

DSC_0493

The Sweet Train abounds with intricate, locally crafted woodwork. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Anyone who’s seen pictures of or been on the Seven Stars will immediately recognize the work of Sweet Train designer, Mr. Eiji Mitooka, who also designed the Seven Stars.

The Sweet Train reflects many Seven Stars elements: lighting and decor employing similar patterns (fabrics and wallpapers in rich hues, often with a nature theme); sumptuous woods and intricate details for those who take time to seek them out.
Rail enthusiasts, for example, must be sure to excuse themselves to wander back towards the lavatory. On the way, they’ll discover a cabinet with several scale-model steam engines and tenders.

And even the bathroom itself is richly decorated and not to be missed.

The self-propelled Sweet Train comprises just two cars. Car No. 1 has a more traditional, open seating plan. Car No. 2, where Simon and I sat, consists of private “booths,” accessible through sliding wooden doors.

IMG_6013

The Sweet Train serves a seasonal menu of delicacies from Kyushu. The center section of my bento box included vegetables in the shapes of autumn maple and gingko leaves. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Following a starter of orange juice and champagne, the fanciful parade of delicate food starts with a colorful box of meat, fish and vegetables, all sourced from Kyushu’s finest providers.

Then come three sweets courses, made from a variety of seasonal fruits, followed by a delicacy called mignardises (tea cakes).

The menu is the brainchild of Mr. Yoshihiro Narisawa, who has a famous restaurant named Narisawa in Tokyo.

The service on the Sweet Train, meanwhile, is top-notch: friendly, knowledgeable and indefatigable. The Sweet Train staff knows how to put on a show.

DSC_0598

A view out my window as the Sweet Train skirted Omura Bay. Note the delicately constructed wooden window shade. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Also — remember to drag your senses away from the plush interiors, scrumptious food and smiling wait staff — and be sure to admire the view: It’s as if it’s custom-designed for this train. The train skirts the broad, blue Omura Bay — gorgeous.

(Note: My Sasebo-Nagasaki trip was in November — autumn in Kyushu. The Sweet Train summer route is between Oita and Hida.)

And what’s the America / Sweet Train connection?

DSC_0630

A woman in traditional dress greets passengers in Nagasaki. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

In 1907, Kyushu Railways ordered a set of “luxury rail cars” from the Philadelphia manufacturer, J.G. Brill Co.  However, nationalization of the railway sidelined the cars.

Now enter Japanese model railway enthusiast Nobutaro Hara, who remembered the cars from his youth and made a model of the Brill train. Eventually the little train wound up in his model railroad museum in Yokohama.

Sweet Train designer Mr. Mitooka based his modern design on Mr. Hara’s model. And hence — this was probably the first time a full-sized train took inspiration from a model!

Want to ride the Sweet Train? We’ve reserved a few coveted places for participants to add the Sweet Train to our luxury Japan by Rail tour running Nov. 3-18 (which includes a four-day trip on the Seven Stars).

On last year’s tour, everybody booked on our journey could not resist the sweets — on the Sweet Train.  And we could only grab 12 spots on the little train for this year’s tour. (Yes, it’s that popular.)

For a beautiful, full-color, 24-page brochure, please email your name and address to [email protected]. Or call (502) 897-1725 or (800) 478-4881.

Rovos Rail’s “Pride of Africa” — 30 Years of Luxury Adventure

16 Oct
IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy and Rovos Rail's Alicia Taljaard pose with the company's lavish

IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy and Rovos Rail’s Alicia Taljaard pose with the company’s lavish “Journeys” magazine. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Rovos Rail’s 15-day Cape Town – Dar es Salaam “luxury adventure” ranks among the top 5 rail trips for many IRT travelers.

But for Alicia Taljaard, Rovos’ Sales and Marketing executive, the best trip bar none is the African Collage – and starting in 2017, she tells us, the trip will be extended “from nine to ten days to enhance guests’ experience.”

“It’s our most scenic trip,” says the 11-year Rovos Rail veteran, who visited the IRT offices recently.

“It’s perfect for the safari enthusiast, and the scenery on that trip is unbeatable.

South Africa's Garden Route is unbeatable for its scenery, which ranges from towering mountains to dramatic seashores. IRT Photo by John Fiorilla

South Africa’s Garden Route is unbeatable for its scenery, which ranges from towering mountains to dramatic seashores. IRT Photo by John Fiorilla

“You have the mountain passes and the Garden Route, a very lush, beautiful area along the coastline of the eastern to western Cape.

“Then there’s the vineyards and the ocean…” Continue reading

Flexible? Try Orient-Express, Rocky Mountaineer, India’s Deccan Odyssey This Autumn

24 Jul

Europe, Canada or India calling? If so, now hear this:

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Get two free nights at the super luxurious Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice when you book the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express London-Paris-Venice on trips running Oct. 25-26, Oct. 29-30, Nov. 1-2 or Nov. 5-6. Click here for more info.

Get the same deal when you book the VSOE the other direction, Venice-Paris-London, for trips running Oct. 28-29, Oct. 31-Nov. 1 or Nov. 4-5. Click here for more info.

The offer is valued at $1,300 per person, is for new bookings only and must be made by Aug. 31. Restrictions apply.

Can’t tell you how much we love this hotel: it is fabulous. See our review and photos here.

Rocky Mountaineer

Get $1,000 per couple in extra services when you book a qualifying 2016 Rocky Mountaineer package of 7 nights or more. The offer is good until Aug. 28.

The luxurious GoldLeaf service gives you a ring-side seat on the glories of the Rocky Mountains’ natural beauty.

Our recommendation: opt for the 12-day “Grand Rail Circle” tour, which packs in three scenic rail routes.

Great plus by booking this trip with us: two complimentary airport limo transfers — a value of $240.

Deccan Odyssey

With Delhi as the beginning of the Deccan Odyssey’s itinerary, a complimentary night in a top Delhi hotel, as well as a free private transfer upon arrival or departure, will be welcome news. The offer includes breakfast and taxes.

Choose a deluxe room from either the chic, modern Lait Hotel or the sumptuous, classical Kempinski Ambience.

The offer is valued at $300-$400. We love the Deccan Odyssey, as you know. Its onboard operators are some of the best in the luxury market.

For more information on the Deccan Odyssey, click here. For more information or to book any of these trains, email us at [email protected]. Or call us at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725.

VSOE Uncorks the Bubbly with Open Doors for Istanbul Tours, Champagne Bar, Berlin Visit

3 Apr
OrientExpressCrest

Classic Orient-Express crest. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The most famous “World’s Top 25 Train®” has much to celebrate .

Booking doors just swung open for rare spots on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express’ annual Istanbul extravaganzas — for 2016. (2015 sold out long ago.)

Dates for the 6-day, 7-country  Paris-Istanbul tour are Aug. 26-21, 2016.  Istanbul – Venice is Sept. 2 – 7, 2016. See prices here.

Space already is dwindling, due to heavy sales to wait-listed clients (some have been in line for 2 years or more). Cabin suites remain for the Paris-Istanbul journey; both classes of service for Istanbul-Venice. Email IRT or call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725 for more info. To book, click here.

Meanwhile, the VSOE makes its first trip to Berlin next year via Venice, and London / Paris. Dates are June 1-6, 2016. Also in 2016: transfers to/from the VSOE in Venice will be included in the fare.

Lalique_Detail

Lalique Panel from Côte d’Azur dining car. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

And this season, guests traveling south from London to Venice can enjoy something brand new: a celebratory champagne breakfast in the train’s “Côte d’Azur’ restaurant car. The diner, with its striking, Art Deco Lalique crystal nudes, features a 20-seat “Champagne Bar” in the corner of the car. Hours are 8-10 a.m.

The breakfast hour is timed to take advantage of the optimum scenery of the Swiss lake region, according to Valerie Ottofaro, Director of Sales, Trains & River Cruises.

Finally, a new concept — the “Simplon Suite” — shortly will be available exclusively to guests booked in “Cabin Suites,” which are two Double Cabins connected by an interior door.

Among “Simplon Suite” benefits are private transfers to/from appropriate stations and priority reservations for the aforementioned Champagne Breakfast spots. They’ll also receive a “luxury amenity” and “free-flowing champagne” in their private quarters. Price is £250 (about $370) per person.

VSOE champagne on ice. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

VSOE champagne on ice. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Most intriguing to this VSOE fan is the Champagne Breakfast. The menu, designed by VSOE head chef Christian Bodiguel, includes a luxurious and mouth-watering selection of freshly baked breads, smoked salmon, eggs, truffles and caviar. Guests can book the special breakfast with the cabin steward once on board. Cost is 100 Euros (about $110) per person.

In the evening, the Champagne Bar offers many champagne varieties, sold either by the glass or the bottle, with champagne cocktails, some bespoke.

Hungarian military band greets guests during annual, over-the-top VSOE Paris-Istanbul sojourn. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Hungarian military band greets guests during annual, over-the-top VSOE Paris-Istanbul sojourn. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“The brand-new bar will add to the sense of occasion and give guests more of an excuse to celebrate aboard the world’s most famous train,” said Ms. Ottofaro.

Speaking of the 2016 Berlin itinerary, Ms. Ottofaro said: “Timings are subject to railway confirmation. Arrival in Berlin will be be approximately 6:30 p.m. Berlin departure is estimated to be 11 a.m.

“Our tour manager, Simon Wallace, is currently working on inclusive package experiences in support of this new destination,” Ms. Ottofaro added.

Royal Scotsman Scores with ‘Limited Edition’ Confections

7 Mar
IRT guests Robert & Virginia Montgomery aboard the Royal Scotsman.

IRT guests Robert & Virginia Montgomery aboard the Royal Scotsman. Photo courtesy of the Montgomerys

One of the world’s most intimate luxury trains — the Royal Scotsman — threw open its doors this week for 2016 bookings, even as space this year is dwindling on many departures.

During the last several years, the train has inaugurated several “limited edition” tours, which have proven to be very successful, said Valerie J. Ottofaro.

Ms. Ottofaro is Director of Sales, Belmond Trains & River Cruises. (The train’s official name is Belmond Royal Scotsman, honoring the company’s new brand.)

“The Grand Tour of Great Britain will continue to run as an exclusive tour in 2016,” she said. The dates are July 8-15, 2016.

The popular, 7-night annual tour is for true devotees of history, food & spirits, culture, and life in England, Scotland and Wales.

The varied, exclusive activities include a castle tour with its owners, a ride on the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway and dinner at a country estate.

Royal Scotsman breakfast tray. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Royal Scotsman breakfast tray. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“IRT guests who have done this trip have raved about it,” said Eleanor Flagler Hardy, President of The Society of International Railway Travelers®.

Other special trips are for devotees of whisky, golf and Scottish country life.

The “Classic Whisky Tours” — in partnership with the Scottish Malt Whisky Society — “have proved very successful over the past two years,” Ms. Ottofaro said.

The five-day whisky tour includes visits and tastings at a number of distilleries as well as on-board tastings in the train’s lounge car. For 2016, one trip is planned: April 25–29.

Belmond plans one Classic Golf Tour for June 13-17, 2016.

“This is a four-night journey through the heart of the Scottish Highlands,” Ms. Ottofaro said, “offering three rounds of golf at some of the country’s finest and most northerly of the UK’s championship golf courses.” One of the courses will be Gleneagles.

“The Heritage Homes and Gardens tour,” meanwhile, “has been received very well over the past two years,” she said. Next year the trip runs June 6-10.

“This is an exploration of Scotland’s most fascinating and scenic country homes and gardens,” said Ms. Ottofaro.

“It’s a special four-night tour hosted by an experienced gardener, a professional photographer and a freelance garden writer who provide guests with gardening tips and fascinating history along the way.”

Taking the perfect photo on the Royal Scotsman's outdoor rear platform. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Taking the perfect photo on the Royal Scotsman’s outdoor rear platform. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Meanwhile, officials said space was almost gone for several 2015 specialty tours, including the annual Grand Tour.

Just one double and one single cabin remain for the 8-day Grand Tour of England, Scotland and Wales, a Belmond reservations specialist told IRT yesterday. This year’s dates are July 10-17.

This year’s April 27-May 1 “Classic Whisky Tour” has one twin and two single cabins left.

A second 2015 “Classic Whisky” departure, July 5-9, has just one twin cabin remaining.

Drinking tea in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Drinking tea in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

More space is available for this year’s annual Heritage and Garden Tour, the spokesperson said: five twins and two singles. The dates are June 5-9.

Call (800) 478-4881 or email [email protected], if you’d like to grab a spot. IRT will accept bookings on a first-come, first-served basis. A 15% deposit is required to secure your booking. If the trip is within 60 days of travel, full payment will be required.

(Book by March 31 for value-added special offers for certain departures. Restrictions apply.)

“Booking soon gives you a better chance of getting just what you want,” IRT’s Mrs. Hardy said.

RedLady

Lively conversation in the Royal Scotsman lounge. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

“Also, in general, the earlier you book, the closer you’ll be to the lounge and dining car. And that’s especially true for singles, since there are only four single cabins on each departure — with no single supplement.”

Another success story is the 2014 addition of the 3-night Edinburgh-London tour, Majestic England. An add-on return trip, “A Tale of Two Cities,” is an overnight London-Edinburgh journey whose emphasis is on-board food, spirits and ambience.

“We have seen encouraging sales for both journeys,” Ms. Ottofaro said.

The 3-night Edinburgh-London trip includes Alnwick Castle, home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family; York, site of the National Railway Museum; Sandringham, the Norfolk retreat of the Royal Family; and Cambridge.

Toddy time in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Toddy time in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Thus, a traveler could combine this 3-night Edinburgh-London trip to the one-night London-Edinburgh return journey.

“And twice each season — in August and September — the London itinerary has been scheduled so it can be added to a 5-day Classic journey through the Scottish Highlands,” Ms. Hardy said.

For questions or to book, call (800) 478-4881 (U.S. and Canada) or (502) 897-1725 (elsewhere). Or email us: [email protected].

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Announces 2014 Istanbul Sales

21 Jun

Hungarian military band greets Paris-Istanbul Orient-Express in Budapest. IRT Photos by O. Hardy

Continue reading

Pullman Rail Journeys Reborn on Fabled City of New Orleans

20 Jun

02-IMG_1934By Zane Katsikis

Revise the Pullman name? Bring back Pullman’s first-class service? With up-to-date Pullman cars based in Chicago?

Even if the magician behind all this was Ed Ellis, I was skeptical. Many people had tried such schemes before and failed.

Ellis is the visionary leader of Iowa Pacific Holdings (IPH). Formed in 2001, IPH is involved in a growing number of main- and short-line freight and passenger rail ventures throughout North America and elsewhere.

IPH prides itself on its expert operation of successful, for-profit, rail-related services. And it doesn’t shy away from running passenger trains. In all, IPH controls 10 passenger rail operations in the U.S., Peru and the United Kingdom. A year ago in April, IPH took the plunge with its Pullman Sleeper Car Company, LLC (PSCC).

Pullman Rail Journeys chose New Orleans as its first destination for several reasons.

First, Ellis grew up in Paducah, KY, near the Illinois Central main line connecting Chicago and New Orleans, and he’s partial to it. Second, and more practically, Amtrak’s daily train to Louisiana, the City of New Orleans, has capacity to haul extra cars, and New Orleans terminal has space for extra cars as well.

Pontchartrain Club started out as a coach, built by the Pullman Company in 1917 for the Illinois Central Railroad. Photo by Zane Katsikis

Pontchartrain Club started out as a coach, built by the Pullman Company in 1917 for the Illinois Central Railroad. Photo by Zane Katsikis

One day in late April, I stepped off Amtrak’s California Zephyr in Chicago, ready to try out Ellis’ revived Pullman service. Union Station was extremely busy, and neither Red Caps nor harried Amtrak information agents could help me find the Pullman lounge. Finally an Amtrak police officer directed me to the Pullman Rail Journeys booth in Amtrak’s First-Class Metropolitan Lounge.

My train consisted of two cars. One was sleeper Chebanse, an 8-roomette/6-bedroom sleeper formerly owned by Florida East Coast Railway. The more important car was at the tail end: heavyweight round-end observation/lounge/sleeper Pontchartrain Club, built in 1917 for the Illinois Central Railroad. Both cars were smartly painted in classic IC colors. I was even more pleased when lead porter Paul Carter directed me to bedroom C on Pontchartrain Club.

24-IMG_1966

A Pullman waiter serves passengers in the round-end observation car at the train’s rear. IRT photo by Zane Katsikis

Ellis and IPH say they want to recreate the “Pullman Experience” of attention to detail, comfort and style. And walking to the observation area of Pontchartrain Club, I couldn’t help noticing the difference from Amtrak’s standard stainless steel and ubiquitous plastic décor.

I quickly settled into a plush easy chair near the round end. Almost immediately, waiter Jeremy Kniola offered me a glass of crispy Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. I relaxed in my armchair as I watched the City’s back-up move out of Union Station.

Soon we were heading south on the former Illinois Central mainline. Waiter Kniola called us to dinner, and we took our places around the well-appointed Pontchartrain Club table. Only six passengers — the entire passenger load that day — joined me. (Pullman Rail Journeys says it’s still in its “shake-down” phase. While it doesn’t turn away paying passengers, it’s focusing on getting the word out to the travel industry.)

Chef somebody or other prepares the evening meal. IRT photo by Zane Katsikis

Pullman Rail Journeys chef prepares the evening meal. IRT photo by Zane Katsikis

Dinner was my trip’s highlight. Executive Chef Dan Traynor spent close to a year studying Pullman’s high-quality menus, service and recipes. Moreover, in a previous life, Chef Traynor worked aboard the dome cars of the Holland America cruise line in Alaska. He understood the art of cooking in miniscule spaces.

Chef Traynor caters to many taste palates, as our menus confirmed. A relish tray preceded the salad course. Then we enjoyed a selection of four main courses including grilled seasonal vegetables for the non-carnivores among us. An off-train commissary prepared most of the dishes, which were then finished on board.

I polished off my dessert of frozen chocolate mousse with raspberries, as we rolled over former Illinois Central track through Kankakee and Rantoul, Ill. The roadbed was glass smooth.

While the train was stopped at Champaign-Urbana, I made my way to my bedroom. During my pre-bed ablutions, I concluded that Pullman Rail Journeys would be a much-heralded success, if the evening and dinner’s quality could be replicated on every trip.

21-IMG_1958The long, early-morning station stop at Memphis aroused me from my slumber. But I couldn’t leave the train to stretch my legs, as the Pullman cars extended beyond the end of the Memphis platform! No matter. The 400-mile-ride from Champaign-Urbana to Memphis had been comfortable; I hadn’t detected any unnecessary movement in the old car. I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

I showered, dressed and headed to the lounge end of Pontchartrain Club. Though no newspaper was available, I took advantage of the fine onboard Wi-Fi service to check on life beyond the rails before taking my seat for breakfast.

11-IMG_1947The meal was tasty, with freshly prepared fried eggs served with ham, fresh fruit and a glass of grapefruit juice, all accompanied with freshly brewed Bridgeport Coffee. But the meal proved to be an “adventure.”

The 126-mile, single-track mainline south of Memphis to Greenwood, Miss. is in poor shape. Waiters had trouble pouring liquids. Keeping plates on the table was a challenge. Looking out Pontchartrain Club’s big windows, I noticed many railroad work crews: a hopeful sign. (In fact, the track’s current owner, Canadian National, recently said it plans to bring the tracks back to Class 1 standards.)

I retired to my room for an early-morning nap. Later, I returned to the lounge to watch the languid, verdant Mississippi countryside roll by outside the large windows.

Lunch was announced a few minutes after the Hazlehurst, Miss. stop. Once again, we found ourselves around the large table for another fine meal. My main course was excellent: capellini Pomodoro — angel hair pasta with a tomato cream sauce, tossed with roasted cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella.

Shortly after our stop at quaint Hammond, La., we came to the scenic highlight of the trip: the dash across 630-square-mile Lake Pontchartrain. For 45 minutes, The City of New Orleans was an ocean-going vessel, leaving parallel highways out of sight.

We crossed numerous bridges and viaducts, allowing us glimpses of Louisiana’s wild wetlands. Somewhere out there in the mangrove swamps near the tracks, Conductor Moore told us, were snapping turtles and alligators sunning themselves on downed trees.

All too soon — 30 minutes early, in fact — we backed into New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal. Leaving the station, I made my way to the new Loyola Avenue streetcar stop just outside the station. Looking back, I wished Ed Ellis and his dedicated colleagues well. It had been an excellent trip.

This service deserves to succeed.

Prices for the Pullman Rail Journeys accommodations range from $500 for a single, upper berth in a sectional sleeper (with curtains; bathroom and shower down the hall) to $2,850 for two sharing a Master Bedroom, which includes en suite shower, sink and toilet. The private service is attached to the rear of Amtrak’s daily City of New Orleans. The train departs Chicago at 8 p.m., arriving the next day in New Orleans at 3:32 p.m.; it departs New Orleans at 1:45 p.m., arriving in Chicago the next day at 9 a.m. For more information or to book, call IRT.  The Society  can book this for you as an independent one-night trip or as part of a multi-leg rail package.

For over 30 years, IRT International Editor Zane Katsikis has traveled the world by passenger train. In addition to writing about his rail travels, he works in the food and wine industry. We are delighted to welcome Zane’s great reporting and photographs to Track 25!

Thailand’s “Death Railway”: Adventures on the Eastern & Oriental Express, Part II

25 Jun

Third Class local passenger train at Nam Tok station. IRT photo by Bruce Anderson.

Editor’s note: To read Part I of Mr. Anderson’s adventures, please click here.

After deciding to book the Epic Thailand trip on the Eastern & Oriental Express (persuaded by Eleanor Hardy’s Track 25 blog), I opted to add the short Singapore-Bangkok route to the beginning of my adventure so that I could experience and see even more of this fascinating South Asian region. But unexpected hiccups while en-route to Bangkok left me wondering whether I’d make my primary Epic Thailand departure…

Eastern & Oriental Express at sunset. IRT photo by Bruce Anderson.

Our Singapore-Bangkok itinerary was thrown off course first by a stalled local train in Malaysia and then by an engine failure just across the Thai border (the E&O is contracted by law to use only Malaysian and Thai Railway locomotives), putting us significantly behind schedule, so much so that the side trip to the Kwai River Bridge was abandoned so that we could make a more timely arrival into Bangkok. So although I’d be able to join the IRT group departing on the Epic Thailand tour the next morning (Phew!), I was disappointed that I’d missed seeing the famous Kwai River Bridge.

E & O observation car with bartenders Sopa & Andrek. IRT photo by Bruce Anderson.

My disappointment, however, was short-lived. The Eastern & Oriental Express staff arranged a complementary private car and guide to drive me out to Nam Tok upon my return to Bangkok, following my week-long Epic Thailand adventure. This was just one more shining example of the E&O’s outstanding commitment to customer service and satisfaction.

Despite Bangkok’s horrendous traffic, the trip to the Kwai Bridge was worth every exertion. Once across the bridge, I saw the two plinthed steam locomotives on site and had time for a brief visit to the cemetery before our return trip to the capital.

For more information and for reservations on the Eastern & Oriental Express, visit the Society of International Railway Traveler’s website or call us at (800) 478-4881.

The Al-Andalus: Whirlwind Tour Through Southern Spain

9 Jun

IRT writer Angela Walker and traveling companion Shawn Bidwell enjoy dinner on board the Al-Andalus.  IRT photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

Embarking on the Al-Andalus for the first time from Seville was a bit of an adventure, as my traveling companion Shawn and I had to feel our way around the Santa Justa station in lieu of proper signage. But once on board, the train was a welcoming and luxurious oasis that was well worth the initial confusion.

View of the Alhambra from our wonderful local restaurant in Granada. IRT photo by Angela Walker

Al-Andalus passenger Shawn Bidwell disembarks the train in Granada. IRT photo by Angela Walker.

After being welcomed with champagne in the lounge, we settled into our Superior cabin, equipped with a lovely golden couch – which folded into a comfortable and roomy double bed at night – a writing table and chair, a spacious closet, and a full en-suite bathroom. The modern touches, such as vacuum toilet and individually controlled air conditioning do not take away from the beautiful Belle Époque design – striking sconces accentuate the carefully crafted inlaid wooden flower designs throughout the train.

Most of the Al-Andalus sleeping cars were built in France in the late 1920s, as were all four public cars: lounge, two diners and bar car, which are as comfortable and beautiful as the sleepers. The dining and bar car is lovely in tones of red and gold, while the lounge car is a more muted gray with large welcoming couches.

We could have spent a week enjoying the comforts of the train alone, but the many stops along the way – Cordoba, Baeza, Ubeda, Granada, Ronda, Cadiz, Jerez, Sanlucar, and Sevilla – provided an exciting and whirlwind six-day tour through southern Spain. Granada’s stunning Alhambra, built by the Moorish rulers in the 14th century, was among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites we took in on our journey, as was the famed Seville Cathedral – third largest in the world.

The staff of the Al-Andalus is always at the ready with hot coffee and tea during daily breakfast on board. IRT photo by Angela Walker.

Some stops were difficult to navigate with a group (the small and winding streets of Cordoba, for example), but the Al-Andalus guides did an excellent job of keeping everyone lively and on track. Most travelers on our departure were Spanish-speakers – but not to fear. As we were two of only three English-speakers on board, Mercedes, our fantastic translator employed by the train, became our de facto personal guide. She was patient with any questions we had and made us feel quite at home.

For Part II of Angela Walker’s adventures on the Al-Andalus, please click here.

%d bloggers like this: