Virtuoso Life - July/August 2015 - 110
Rail royalty (from left): A VSOE
steward, the belle epoque Gare de
Paris-Est, car number 3483, and
a lunch appetizer - asparagus
with buffalo mozzarella, chicken
oysters, and tomatoes.
t the Gare de
Paris-Est in the city's
a billboard-size mural
towering above the
depicts formality at
the turn of the twentieth century. In Le
départ des poilus, men dressed in suits, neckties,
and fashion collars and ladies wearing long, splendid gowns mill about in front of antique train cars.
The scene is a far cry from the station on a recent
Sunday, when passengers in sweatshirts and torn
jeans glower over the nuisance of travel as they
scurry for dingy trains.
But on platform four, a sparkling navy-andgold train looks as if it steamed in straight from
the historic painting. The Venice Simplon-Orient-
V I RT U O S O L I F E | v i r t u o s o.c o m
Express is en route from London to Venice, following a similar route to the one it has
plied since 1906, and I'm on board to discover whether the reality lives up to the myth.
This is, after all, the heir to the train that inspired Agatha Christie's famous whodunit,
and her tale of murder, celebrity passengers, and being marooned in a locomotive-size
snowdrift isn't complete fiction. With fully renovated cars reclaimed from the 1920s, not
much has changed since the Orient-Express' glory days - at least not inside the train.
The journey from England to Italy takes nearly 32 hours - about 30 hours longer than a
flight. The train pulls out of London at 10:45 am sharp, and after a fusillade of fine meals
and one cabin overnight, passengers arrive in Venice at 6 pm the following day. In this era
of FaceTime calls and jumbo jets that whisk you around the globe in half a day, you might
wonder, "Why waste the time?"
"It's not so much about point A to point B," says Eleanor Flagler Hardy, one of the country's leading authorities on luxury rail travel. Hardy's Louisville, Kentucky, Virtuoso travel
agency is one of the Orient-Express' top bookers, and she and her husband celebrated their
30th wedding anniversary on the route in 2010. "The VSOE is about the beauty of the cars
and the history of the train itself. It's about the romance of travel. Riding this train is like
going to see a grand, opulent drama, except in this case you get to play a part."
The trip makes a fitting act in the theater of my life, as my wife, Jen Judge, and I were
married aboard a historic narrow-gauge railway in Colorado. We liked the metaphor of
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