Philip and Violet Kerry are taking this whole planning thing seriously. Here's their story of how one of their goals turned out.......
There we were, preparing for our half-yearly review meeting with Richard at Chesterton House and desperately trying to think of some things to add to our somewhat meagre ‘Objectives’ list. After much thought and scratching of heads we came up with ‘the Orient-Express to Venice’, wrote it on the preparation forms, and then went back to the gardening. Time passed. Then we thought we had better do it, otherwise Richard might be on at us...
Booking easily and directly with the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express office in London some six months in advance gave us ample time to worry about our respective wardrobes (new outfits all round) and to become progressively more excited as the departure date drew nearer. Then in late March it was off to Victoria Station for the first leg of the journey to Folkestone on the Pullman (we will not bore the reader with too many details of the copious amounts of fine food and Prosecco/Bellini cocktails/etc, ingested on every step of the journey and will just focus on the occasional glimpse as to what was on offer). At Folkestone we changed transport to a (motor) coach for the short trip to Calais by Eurotunnel (food during this stage was limited to water/orange juice and snacks).
Mrs Kerry and steward at Innsbruck
Whilst this ultra-modern coach was very pleasant, the Orient Express waiting for us at Calais was an absolute joy. We were met and ushered to our handsome albeit small cabin on the Wagons Lits by Massimo, our Venetian steward for the trip and soon settled in, each with a glass of Prosecco for company.
Most of the journey is a delicious haze. We stopped off for a short while in Paris and then again in Innsbruck and each time we were able to stretch our legs on the platform. However, this was no more than a token gesture in trying to walk off the excesses consumed in any one of three superb dining cars. We particularly enjoyed the lacquered oriental-style car but the one decorated with Lalique glass panels was also memorable, as was the one with very fine floral marquetry. As alluded to earlier, the food wasn’t bad either...the only problem was trying to fit it all in. The bar car with its own grand piano was also magnificent but, strange to relate, we spent very little time in it (it was invariably packed and extremely busy).
En route we learnt that the Italian railways were on strike and that we might have to disembark at the Austro-Italian border and continue to Venice by coach. However, by taking a three hour detour through Austria, the train was allowed to cross into Italy on the eastern edge of the country and then continue down to Venice. This meant that we arrived later than expected (and some 34 hours after leaving London) at the Santa Lucia station and even later at the hotel, not getting to bed much before midnight in a slightly exhausted condition.
We treated ourselves to the luxurious Cipriani Hotel on La Giudecca. The room was excellent with not one but two bathrooms. The weather being very warm and the room even warmer, we enquired as to the functionality of the air conditioning. We were advised that it wasn’t turned on until the end of April and perhaps we would like to open the windows? Since the room had two sliding glass balcony doors this wasn’t a problem. The hotel also had a delightful garden and its own boat to ferry guests to and from the St. Mark’s Square.
This was our fourth visit to Venice, a measure of how much we love the place. Whilst the area in the vicinity of St. Mark’s always seems horrendously busy with hoards of visitors, many off large cruise ships, it is so easy to slip away from the mayhem and enjoy the real Venice. By so doing we managed to track down many of the places we hadn’t managed to see previously in relative peace and quiet. There is so much to see, all of it stunning, and to single out places and artefacts for individual attention seems almost invidious. We did make a special effort to find the Basilica of San Pietro di Castello, beyond the Arsenale on the edge of the city. This was the original church of the Patriarch of Venice until 1807 when Napoleon forced the Patriarch to move to St. Mark’s Basilica (previously the Doges’ private chapel). We also sought out the original ghetto, with its moving memorials to the Holocaust victims. Our knowledge of art and architecture also improved, having taken in two of Giovanni Bellini’s paintings, quite a few Palladian and a mere one or two Gothic churches (the Venetians disliked the Goths).
Mrs Kerry, having just seen the bill at Caffé Florian
One of our long-standing ambitions had been to visit the Caffé Florian in St. Mark’s Square (first opened on 29 December 1720). This we duly did and much enjoyed tea and cakes for two (both tea and cake being Florian ‘specials’) and compulsory live music (@ € 6,00 per person). The total cost came to € 53,00, thus explaining Mrs Kerry’s somewhat stunned expression when she received the bill. After all, could the house-keeping stand it?
A trip up the Campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore was also a ‘must’ with superb 180 degree views (almost certainly better than those from the top of the Campanile in St. Mark’s Square, mainly because the view from San Giorgio takes in all of Venice including St. Mark’s and beyond).
Cipriani Hotel with swimming pool (right foreground) from San Giorgio’s Campanile
The evenings (including the one during which we got caught in a spectacular electrical storm) were a delight spent wandering on La Giudecca and having excellent dinners in various local restaurants overlooking the city. The ever changing evening light was magical and the city and outlying islands were serene and peaceful.
Venice from La Giudecca (8.20 p.m. local time)
Our four full days in Venice sped by and because planes and airports are the most tedious places on the planet we retraced our tracks in the same luxurious manner that we had taken on the way out. Perhaps one the most decadent meals consumed on our journeys was brunch, devoured at about 10.30 a.m. somewhere between Paris and Calais. This consisted of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, followed by lobster, then Tarte Tartin and ice cream, and finished off with coffee and the train’s own very rich chocolates (this brief description does not do justice to the menus or the meals produced by the Chef de Cuisine, Christian Bodiguel and his team).
The trip was a huge success but inevitably there were serious problems. For example, trying to tie a bow tie before dinner is always a challenge (one’s tailor once intimated that bow ties on elastic or tapes with hooks are anathema and as such should be avoided at all costs) but trying to tie it in the confined space of a Wagon Lits cabin on a moving train is something else altogether. That it can be achieved is remarkable and there is photographic evidence in support of this claim. (This difficulty should not in any way put people off who might be contemplating a journey on the Orient Express.)
Note the bow tie
And now we have another review meeting looming. Does anybody know anything about Vladivostok? Failing that, there are always the polar bears up at Churchill.
Philip and Violet Kerry
What a fabulous trip! We hope you enjoyed reading about it. Why not take a look at Our Mediterranean Odyssey by David & Tena Smith?