Tag Archives: Orient Express

2018 VSOE Dates Posted; Wait List for Annual Istanbul Galas

24 Mar

OrientExpressCrest

Get your name on the wait list for sought-after spots on the 2018 Venice Simplon-Orient-Express’ annual Istanbul extravaganzas.

(This year’s Paris-Istanbul trip is sold out; space still exists for the Sept. 1-6 Istanbul-Venice trip. Want to go? Contact us ASAP.)

Tentative 2018 dates for the Paris-Istanbul annual journey are Aug. 24-29. Tentative 2018 dates for Istanbul-Venice are Aug. 31-Sept. 5.

If you’ve always wanted to be a part of one of these classic trips, contact us to get your name on the wait list now. You are under no obligation.

Italian_NunsMeanwhile, Belmond, the company which operates the VSOE, also confirmed dates for the vintage luxury train’s other 2018 journeys. They include:

IRT 2015 Italy Violin Postcd LR copy

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.

Of special note: 2018 dates for our Romantic Italian Holiday, a dream itinerary created by The Society of IRT, also are now on line.

The tour combines two nights in Florence at the Belmond Villa San Michele; two nights in Venice at the Belmond Hotel Cipriani; two days and a night on the VSOE from Venice to the English Channel, capped off by afternoon tea on the Bellmond British Pullman into London.

2018 prices were not available at press time; they will be coming soon. Contact us, and we will notify you when they are available.

Email IRT or call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725 for more info. To book, click here.

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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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

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A Very Unusual Guest on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

18 Mar

Reporting from the Venice-Paris-Calais route of  Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Continued from Part One

The Hardys on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. IRT Photo

Following lunch in diner “L’Oriental,” our train glides northwards towards the Italian/Swiss border. Eleanor and I laze in our double compartment, sleeping, reading, gazing out our open window…

…and daydreaming how we meet the most interesting people on train trips.

My thoughts drift back to Venice, where we spent two glorious nights at the five-star Hotel Cipriani, and where we met a charming young Brit named Alan.

Cipriani garden. E. Hardy, IRT

We were relaxing on a bench in one of the hotel’s incredible gardens, when a young man waved to us.  We waved back.

Despite the metal stud in his lip, two more in his eyebrow, and his  unkempt hair and beard, he was dressed in a beautiful suit and tie. Friendly as he was, I took him to be a member of the Cipriani staff.

But he was a guest. And he was simply overwhelmed, he told us, to be at the Cipriani, where he’d arrived the day before from London on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. He and his new bride were spending five nights at the Cipriani before returning to London, again on the Orient-Express. They thought of the most wonderful thing they  might do for their honeymoon, and round trip on the Orient Express and five nights at this fabulous hotel was just the ticket.

The Hotel Cipriani, Venice. E. Hardy, IRT

He said he was in the process of selling his company, which provided security against credit card fraud.

Interesting business, we said, and we’re sure you’re busy. Oh very, he responded.

How did he happen into that line of work? we asked.

“I used to be engaged in credit-card fraud myself,” he explained cheerily. “Never did much at school. Dropped out when I was 16. I’ve been working ever since.”

Indeed, we said.

But then Alan got caught by the police and, apparently, served at least part of his sentence by teaching the authorities how to protect against people like himself. His services were sufficiently valuable that he founded his own company, which he was in the process of selling – at age 27. His clients included such multi-national corporations as SONY and American Express. From the sound of it, it seemed this would be the last work he would need to do.

Fortuny Restaurant, Hotel Cipriani. Eleanor Hardy, IRT

He was a charming young man, thrilled by the Orient-Express, thrilled by the Cipriani, and delighted to meet us.  He wanted to know if we had a dining recommendation. We spied him at dinner that night on the outdoor patio of the Fortuny restaurant, two tables away, with his young bride. He waved again.

Our dining reservation card on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Our dining reservation card on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

They looked like two children playing dress-up. They probably could buy us out many times over. I gave him our card (but not our credit card) and said I hoped he’d travel with The Society of International Railway Travelers some day.

Maybe we’ll meet again on the Paris-Istanbul Orient-Express for his fifth — and our 35th — wedding anniversary.

Or maybe we’ll wind up back at the Cipriani following the great train’s last run of the season, Istanbul-Venice.

Wherever we meet, we wish him well and echo his appreciation of the world’s great luxury trains.

More pictures of the Cipriani.

Next time: Part 3 – Dinner in the Côte D’Azur

Indolence—with Style—on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

11 Mar

 

 

Eleanor Hardy luxuriates at the VSOE's open window. Photo by Owen Hardy, IRT

Reporting from the Venice-Paris-Calais route of  Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Overcast day. Left Venice’ Santa Lucia Station at 11. Now we’re back from lunch, lounging in our “Cabin Suite,” as the VSOE calls two double compartments joined by a private, interior door. We gaze at high rocky crags, set against a cloud-filled sky punctuated by patches of blue.

Landscape is emerald green; hillsides covered with grape arbors and bright, orange-red poppies, which we’ve seen everywhere since we’ve been in Italy. We think we’re entering the Dolomites, but neither of us has made a move to consult our VSOE map. We’re resting, we tell ourselves.

It’s rained on and off, but the temperature is cooling. We’re feeling no pain.

Went through Verona during lunch. Our waiter mentioned it was the home of Romeo and Juliet. Knew that, but nice of him to remind us. Ah, romance. I drift off to sleep.

It’s overcast, as I said, but we like it that way. It makes our compartment quite comfortable. Mountains seem to be getting more massive as we continue north towards Switzerland. “Style of architecture looking more Swiss, less Italian,” I note, brilliantly, in my journal.

Our morning departure went off without a hitch. We left the Cipriani Hotel by private boat to the train station. People coming in on the Trenitalia trains, even the folks from the snazzy, high-speed ETR 600s, were green with envy. The platform swarmed with the curious, anxious to catch a glimpse and a photo or two of this train straight out of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.”

People crowded the windows to peer into the sleeping cars, and the VSOE staff graciously allowed themselves to be photographed with their many admirers. Even a group of Italian nuns got into the act.

A group of nuns, just arrived via local train, catch Orient-Express fever. Photo by Owen Hardy for IRT

Jake, a New Zealander and our compartment steward, welcomed us each with a glass of champagne in a distinctive VSOE flute on a doily and a nice “Happy Anniversary” card from the train manager. We’re taking this special trip to celebrate our 30th. And what better way for us to celebrate?

Now Eleanor is sound asleep, exhausted by all the amenities she’s been enjoying. The mountainsides are getting steeper as we move further into the Alps.

'L'Oriental" detail. O. Hardy

Lunch was in the diner “L’Oriental” — which we think looks like a Chinese black lacquered box. We ordered a half bottle of Campogiovanni Brunello Di Montalcino, 2004, an Italian red wine which went wonderfully with our set menu: monkfish, red pepper stuffed with basmati rice, a grilled fennel, dessert of mixed red berries—raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, drizzled with triple sec. With our coffee they gave us a little plate of macaroons, melt-in-your-mouth soft, and three little squares of chocolate.

VSOE delight. O. Hardy

Amazing how much we love those little touches—the chocolates had the swirling VSOE logo on them. We practically squealed with delight.

As my 94-year-old mother would say: “We could get used to this.”

Enjoy these pictures we have posted. You don’t have to be a Facebook member to enjoy them.

Next time: Part 2: A Very Unusual Guest on the Orient-Express

Eastern & Oriental Express Staff: “Almost Like a Family”

7 Mar

Mr. Panupong Wrassamee, of Chiang Mai, Thailand-meticulous, yet warm and welcoming—a true professional. Photo by Eleanor Hardy, IRT

“Welcome on board, Madame Hardy!” was his warm welcome when I arrived.

And later: “Is everything all right, Madame Hardy? Air conditioning just right? Enough hot water?” And he never forgot that I like to wake up at 6 a.m., have my coffee — with skim milk — for half an hour while watching the world go by, then fruit and cereal or yogurt for breakfast. He decorated my every tray with an orchid. He always folded my robe into the traditional Thai greeting stance. And he always tidied my room—immaculately—before I returned for bed.

And this was just in my room. Throughout the train, in the restaurant and bar cars, the service was spectacular.

In truth, on the Epic Thailand journey on the Eastern & Oriental Express, the staff was the star of the show.

Thai symbol of hospitality-folded into E & O robe. Photo by Eleanor Hardy, IRT

My steward was Mr. Panupong Wrassamee, 41 . He was probably the best I have ever experienced on any train in the world—and I personally have ridden 18 of our World’s Top 25 Trains™. Mr. Wrassamee has worked on the Eastern & Oriental for 17 years. His English is excellent. His care was superior, attentive, friendly, and always spot-on. Sometimes, it was over the top. In Chiang Mai, where he lives, he brought me soup and strawberries from his family home.

More than 60 percent of the Eastern & Oriental staff has been with the train since it started in January, 1993—18 years.

Train Manager Ulf Buchert shares a laugh with E & O passengers. Photo by Eleanor Hardy, IRT

That special welcome starts at the top. Mr. Ulf Buchert, a native of Frankental, Germany, has been with the Eastern & Oriental since its inception. A resident of Bangkok for the past 11 years, he is witty, charming, friendly, welcoming and the essence of hospitality.

His staff of 44 includes the chef, two assistant train managers, restaurant manager, assistant restaurant manager, seven waiters, 14 kitchen staff in the two kitchens, 15 cabin stewards and two cleaners. On the regular, Singapore-Bangkok runs, which are done much of the year, they take care of 126 people. On the special Chronicles extended journeys,  like the one I took in February, the maximum is 60 persons in 28 “State” compartments and two presidential compartments.

“Somehow, it’s almost like a family,” says Mr. Buchert. “Here, you come on board, everybody is happy, everybody is helping.”

Mr. Chanyuth Techasawat, E & O restaurant manager. Photo by Eleanor Hardy, IRT

Restaurant manager Chanyuth Techasawat, 46, started as head waiter in 1993 and is now restaurant manager. His training in hotel school, plus five years as restaurant captain at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok, has prepared him well. Every table is meticulously set with the fine china, crystal, silver and linens. The hours are long: he and his staff start at 8 a.m. and end about 11:30 p.m. after the last tall crystal wine glass is polished and put away.

But it’s a fabulous job, he says. “You get to see many places, see so many people, have a chance to go to different countries and not to stay at the same place, same time, every day.” Plus, echoing his boss, “we are much like family here.”

“The key is that you have people who really understand how to give great service,” said Eastern & Oriental Express general manager Leesa Lovelace, a native of San Jose, CA and now a Singapore resident.  “They are naturally attentive and kind and genuinely interested in looking after the guests and getting to know them.”

“It makes the journey,” she said.

Indeed it does.

What’s the best service you have experienced on an overnight train trip?

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