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NATHALIE'S TRAIN PORTRAIT *

Venice Simplon Orient Express
The train of the kings


Victoria Station, London at 11 o'clock in the morning. Only a few minutes to go, then our luxury journey back to the 1920s can begin. The time-honored, beige-brown British Pullman train on Platform 12 will take just a couple of hours to get us to Folkestone and then, after crossing the Channel, the Orient Express will be awaiting us for an unforgettable trip via Paris to Venice.

BRITISH PULLMAN TRAIN
Uniformed stewards welcome us each by name - a foretaste of the very individual attention each guest can expect throughout the trip. The British Pullman train is also a reflection of the elegant railway journeys around the turn of the century. In the skillfully restored carriages with their comfortable seats, valuable inlaid work, glass reliefs and mahogany panels, the eye is pampered in the finest British style. Each of the 10 Pullman carriages is unique and each one has its own name and own story to tell.

Time loses meaning on this trip. After a delicious lunch with Champagne and wine, we arrive in the coastal town of Folkestone. The train personnel see the passengers through passport control and customs. Then the guests are taken to their reserved seats on the Sea-Cat catamaran or a hovercraft. It takes about an hour to cross the Channel to France and step on to the elegant Orient Express in Boulogne for the next part of the journey to Paris and the Alps.

Anticipation is said to be the greatest of joys and so most passengers are already busy gathering information about the original Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express which had its heyday in the golden twenties, and was from then on regarded as the epitome of luxury travel. All the world's great leaders have traveled on it...and now it's our turn! My camera-team and I, as well as all the other passengers are all very excited about the trip that lies ahead. Given the accelerated pace of life today, will a train journey fill us with the same enthusiasm as our grandfather's and father's generation? Let's wait and see...

WELCOME ON BOARD...
Liveried porters are standing on all the station platforms. "Welcome on board the legendary Orient Express - the train of the kings". The real luxury, however, awaits you outside your compartment, since it is there that your cabin steward and private valet welcomes you personally. Almost in a dream, I step off the grey platform to suddenly find myself in a glamorous surrounding of fine marquetry, shiny brass and magnificent polished mahogany.

My personal genie is called Jeff and he is a first-class valet. You couldn't wish for better service: discreet, exceptionally polite and yet knowing how to maintain a respectful distance. Jeff is just responsible for our compartment alone and is available at any time of the day or night. Jeff also informs us of the arrival and departure times in Paris, Zurich and Austria. When we eventually get going, the train moves off so smoothly that you hardly notice it. You just lean back and relax - with delicious appetisers and Champagne on ice.

DRESS-CODE
The sound of the grand piano invites you into the splendid bar for a modern-day "Happy Hour". It is just as you hoped it would be - everything in this train has style. Appropriate clothing is therefore a must. Whether in the fashion of the twenties or the latest cocktail outfit - elegance is the order of the day. Gentlemen are recommended to wear a jacket and tie to dinner, but perhaps you feel that a dinner jacket and evening gown are more appropriate for this golden age. In the Orient Express, one can feel free to dress up to savour an excellent dinner in fitting surroundings. We recommend smoked Scottish salmon or roast filet of lamb with fresh oregano. The French chef offers a selection of traditional, exquisitely prepared dishes for every meal.

The excellent menus banish all thoughts of calories and good resolutions disappear into the mist. The perch in a delicious caviar sauce is a culinary sensation. Indulgence is the motto.

STOP-OVER IN PARIS
Arrival at the Gare de Lyon, Paris' main station. Just this once, we allow ourselves an extra treat, making a stopover in this shimmering, pulsating French metropolis. Our trip coincides with a unique exhibition to be seen near the Eiffel Tower and we naturally do not want to miss this cultural highlight. The glamorous setting is provided by the Foundation Mona Bismarck, named after the elegant American beauty who wed Count Eduard von Bismarck, a grandson of the Iron Chancellor. The foundation is well-known for its high-profile art exhibitions such as this one showing Henri Matisse's "Visages Decouvertes". It includes the drawings which the artist did from 1945-54 and which, in many cases, have only just been made available to the public. It's here where we meet Tana Matisse, the daughter-in-law of the legendary painter Henri Matisse, for an interview.

After 2 hours it is time to go. In the Gare de Lyon a dark blue, noble-looking train is waiting for us. But nevertheless - while you are here, dear reader, you really must have a look at the restaurant "Le Train Bleu". Today stucco and gold leaf decorate the time-honored dining room just as splendidly as they did in 1901. The former waiting room is a remnant of the Paris World Exhibition. 41 murals describe the route taken by the "Train Bleu" - the Blue Train -, at that time the fastest connection between Paris and the Côte d'Azur. As I said: Have a look! But I wouldn't recommend to eat there. It remains a restaurant of a train station, so don't expect anything special, except the magnificent decoration.

HISTORY OF THE ORIENT EXPRESS
Aboard the Orient Express we return to the golden age of the Belle Epoque. We are keen to know what the next day will bring! The legend surrounding the Orient Express has existed ever since its very first trip in 1883, and since May 1993, the famous luxury train has also been traveling from Germany. London, Paris and Venice are still the main cities of departure for the majestic, royal blue train with its bright golden letters. In the last 60 glorious years of its existence, all kinds of shining personalities have crossed the European continent: princes, film stars, mistresses and spies have all enjoyed the sumptuous luxury offered by this train.

Up to 176 passengers can enjoy this experience and be added to an impressive list of passengers, ranging from King Edward of England to Mata Hari.

In 1977 the Orient Express shut down its services. Then, thanks to railway fan and English business tycoon James Sherwood, the original carriages were tracked down after a painstaking search across the entire continent. The extensive renovation took 5 years and cost several million, yet as one can see, it has been well worth it. Like us, the other passengers are delighted with the pomp and ceremony."It's just super", says my neighbor in the piano bar. "The opulence of the service. We always wanted to do this and we are not disappointed. We live in Africa and wanted to have a European wedding anniversary and do it a little bit differently."

THE TRAIN TODAY
The train has three different dining carriages, a piano bar as well as eight sleeping carriages, each with 8 compartments. Each one has its own original wash basin with fresh damask towels. There is no shower unfortunately, but here one can live without it. After all, everything is still as it was back then...

Particularly sumptuous: the carriages with their detailed marquetry, art-deco lamps and original Lalique panels. One can see the craftsmanship of the specialists who restored the train to the magnificent style for which it was famous around the turn of the century - they did it to perfection. Thanks to James Sherwood, anybody who enjoys such style can experience the round-the-clock luxury of the twenties for themselves.

VENICE
Finally, we are arriving in Venice, the city of dreams. A little sadly, we finally leave the train we have become so attached to and set off on new adventures. A water taxi is waiting to take us to our chosen destination: the Cipriani Hotel - an Orient Express Hotel, one of the most beautiful residences in the world. Later we will be greeted by General Manager Natale Rusconi and Arrigo Cipriani, until today owner of the legendary "Harry's Bar".

With the bright sunlight glittering on the water, the trip across the lagoon is an unforgettable experience. In Venice one thinks of romance, of the carnival, of dilapidated royal palaces. Here, one forgets cars, traffic chaos and even punctuality. There are more important things in this labyrinth on stilts. We simply let ourselves be propelled to the waters on the other side of St. Mark's Square. On Giudecca island, Venice's top hotel Cipriani rises majestically before us.

A splendid, spacious park in Italian style leads directly to the hotel entrance. Although no longer in the possession of the famous Cipriani family of Venetian restaurateurs, Managing Director Natale Rusconi continues to run this Leading hotel of the World exactly as its former owners would have wished. Each of the 100 rooms is equipped with fabulous Venetian furniture and magnificent marble baths. We have a booking in the Palazzo Vendramin, which is part of the Cipriani Hotel.

To know more about splendid Venetian Palaces and the Cipriani Dynasty, please visit

Nathalie's Special Feature: Venetian Palaces

Orient Express Information
www.orientexpress.com

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* This special feature "Orient Express" has been one of more than 300 Portraits, produced by Nathalie Gütermann for her TV-Shows 'Nathalie's Lifestyle' and 'Nathalie's Art of Living' that were broadcasted between 1990 - 2003 in Germany and in 15 countries world-wide. The content has been updated with actual information in 2004 for Nathalies-Lifestyle.com © 1990 - 2004. The reproduction or other use of any text, photographs, etc. needs the prior written permission of the Chief Publisher.


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