Guests can opt to dine in one of
three cars on the Orient Express.
I take several deep breaths. I don’t want to miss a whiff of the
pricey perfumes on stylish women garnished with elongated earrings,
sequins and chiffons, or the subtle aftershave scents emanating
from tuxedo-clad men. We are traveling from Budapest to London on
an overnight trip aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express before
hooking up with the QM2 for our transatlantic crossing home, and I
want to absorb every aspect of this moving work of art.
Our adventure begins at the Budapest train station where a
cosmopolitan group of mostly over-50 Europeans, Japanese, Americans
and plenty of Brits await departure. Several couples are dewy eyed,
maybe celebrating a birthday or anniversary. All are revved up
about this experience.
“So who’s the murderer?” I playfully whisper to the dapper
Irishman next to us.
Under most circumstances this odd question would rouse the
police, but since we’re about to board the setting for the famed
murder mystery, he whispers a la Inspector Poirot, “It’s that woman
in black, the one with her much younger companion.”
Like a scene straight out of a movie, posing on the platform is
an intriguing character along with a doting escort. They have to
know people are staring despite the fact that it is around 80
degrees she is dressed in a heavy long-sleeve black outfit and
black leather gloves. Her companion is meticulously dressed in a
dark suit and tie. We can’t help but wonder: Is this an ordinary
couple dressed to pay tribute to this legendary transport of spies
and murderers or is there a real bona fide mystery surrounding
them? Either way, they provide perfect waiting-room conjecture.
Venison chop with bacon-wrapped loin is
one of the culinary delights on the train.
Promptly at 8:40 a.m., Jacques, our steward, leads us to a cozy
compartment in one of 12 shiny navy-and-gold passenger cars. A
flame-stitched tapestry banquette sofa flanks one wall. A small
sink is concealed behind two curved mahogany doors. Toiletries,
bottled water, slippers and a thin cotton bathrobe are efficiently
tucked in slots. These are vintage Wagons-Lits carriages, restored
to the grandeur of the 1920s and ’30s. Such accurate restoration
unfortunately means no private toilets (one is at the end of each
car), no showers and no air-conditioning. “Champagne and canapes,”
announces Jacques as he deposits goodies into our compartment.
Who cares that it’s 9 a.m.? On the Orient Express, champagne is
the drink of the hour, any hour.
Before we take a sip, the maitre d’ appears to schedule dinner
reservations there are seatings at 7:15 or 9:30 p.m. Time is marked
by stops in Vienna, Munich and Paris, but mostly time is marked by
meals delicious, elaborate meals. Fresh salmon marinated with
juniper berries and savory herb blinis. Rib of milk-fed veal
simmered with cream, morels and Tokay wine. Complex four-course
meals are meticulously prepared from scratch by on-board French
The food is only topped by the ambiance of three dining cars,
each one is different, but all are adorned with brocade draperies,
velvet chairs and romantic lighting. It’s hard to pick a favorite
the Lalique Pullman has exquisite glass insets; the Chinoise car is
adorned with black lacquer panels and the Etoile du Nord has
intricate marquetry. Waiters clad in crisp white jackets trimmed in
gold braid buzz about pouring wine and fetching hot bread. With a
staff of 40 for 150 passengers, no one waits for anything.
While we dine, Jacques transforms our compartment into a
bedroom, but before retiring, we return to the bar car where the
party atmosphere continues.
Since the Orient Express never leaves the continent, the next
afternoon we disembark in Calais where motorcoaches take us through
the Chunnel and on to Folkstone where we board the British Pullman
for the remainder of our trip to Victoria Station.
As for that mysterious couple, we learned from another equally
curious passenger that they had adjoining compartments (the train’s
only version of a suite) and dined alone, but we never learned
more. Fortunately, no one was murdered on board or at least not
that we know of.