The rail network does not provide much more in some places
Escape from the hustle and bustle with pleasure – a trip with the Venice Simplon Orient-Express takes you back to an era when you could still get around in style. Discover the sensual slowness of the luxury train in our photo show.
The Orient Express
Photo series with 12 pictures
First a clarification: today’s Orient Express is no longer completely the original. From 1883 onwards, it ran from Paris to Istanbul for 126 years. The Venice Simplon Orient-Express is one of the successors and runs around half of the historical route. The luxury trip is still in demand.
One steward for 18 guests
Bruno’s big mission begins at exactly 10:52 a.m. at the Santa Lucia train station in Venice. He wears a sky blue livery with gold piping and a peaked cap. Bruno is the steward of the car with the number 3553, responsible for a maximum of 18 guests. He assigns each of them the cabin and then patiently explains the functions of the silver buttons on the door strip: “This is the big light that the reading lamp, and when you press this button, you call me.”
And because these buttons all look the same, the steward knows that he will probably have a restless night ahead of him, because the passengers often mix them up in the dark.
From Venice to Paris
The Italian has been working for the Venice Simplon Orient-Express for over 20 years. He would never want to work anywhere else. He loves seasonal work, he likes the constantly changing guests from all over the world. This time the journey goes from Venice via Innsbruck to Paris. It’s one of the train’s most popular routes.
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The 17 elegant dark blue cars of the luxury train will rattle along the Alps for around a thousand kilometers. The two-day trip (one night on the train) costs from 2080 euros per person in a double cabin including all meals (bookable via www.belmond.com). If you are wondering why people today still travel on an extremely old-fashioned train with no internet connection or cell phone reception, >>
asks the wrong question, because the Orient Express is usually well booked. At least 11,000 passengers travel annually on the luxury train, which only runs from March to November, with a maximum of 180 passengers per trip.
Restoration for 11 million pounds The success of the Orient Express in 1977 could not be anticipated. At that time the American James B. Sherwood, who got rich in the shipping container business, bought the first two historic wagons from the 1920s in Monaco for 72,800 US dollars. It was the beginning of a new company in the Belmond Group, which operated hotels, ships and trains in the luxury segment. In the years that followed, Sherwood bought more cars from the era and had them faithfully restored for around £ 11 million and a total of 23,000 hours of work. The result is rolling antiques, complete with fine glass reliefs by René Lalique and chinoiserie panels in the three saloon cars. The individual wagons differ mainly in their very elaborately processed and fine wood paneling, which comes from the hand of three artists. All trains are still heated with coal as in the old days. Indulge in bygone eras
If the guests feel transported to another era on this train journey, then it is also due to the 45-person crew. Because only perfect service, which nobody can afford in the hectic present, can conjure up the good old days. The team is in top form, especially at meals: ten waiters with heavy silver trays dance and then balance in a confined space through the three dining cars.
Especially in the evening, the meal becomes a feast.central idea of to kill a mockingbird The guests have dressed up. The dress code is raised. An elegant and at the same time colorful people sit at the white-covered tables. Often it is train enthusiasts, for example pragmatic British, who combine passion with duty and celebrate their wedding anniversary with their wives on rails. Or wealthy French people like the tech-loving Jean, whose wife explains: “He has the train virus, he’s infected.” Chef Christian Bodiguel cooks up for them. Even after 30 years, the work is still a challenge for the French. >>
Because he has to cook 180 three-course meals twice a day in the cramped galley, using only steam and gas. When asked what Bodiguel never serves up on board, he says: “French fries.” The reason: deep-frying is strictly forbidden on the train because of the high risk of fire.
This is how the Orient Express became a legend The Orient Express experienced its heyday between the two world wars. During this period he became a legend. For example, in February 1929, when heavy snowstorms paralyzed the train around a hundred kilometers from Istanbul for several days. This fact inspired the British author Agatha Christie to write her famous crime novel “Murder on the Orient Express”. Three years later a terrorist attack was carried out on the train in Hungary, and in 1940 the Romanian King Carol II fled his country in sleeping car number 3425. In the 1940s in France, car number 3544 was misused as a brothel. Bruno has been rattling the dishes since the early morning. First he served each guest breakfast in the compartment, then he collected everything again, and now he is stacking plates and cups on the shelves in his narrow work and sleeping bunk. The coffee pots hang neatly in a row on a pole above him. That saves space. Entrance in the Gare de l’Est
Shortly before entering the Gare de l’Est station in Paris at 8.22 a.m., Bruno puts his cap back on. When the train comes to a halt, he opens the door of wagon number 3553 and shakes hands with everyone. While his guests can now discover France’s capital, Bruno will be welcoming new passengers on board in a few hours. And, as always, he will patiently explain to them: “This is the great light that the reading lamp, and when you press this button, you call me.” See the Orient Express in our photo show. You can find an overview of the most beautiful luxury train journeys here.
The plane takes just under two hours to travel from Cape Town to Pretoria, 19 hours with the intercity bus. The journey with the Rovos Rail takes even longer: a full two days. But no other form of travel is so comfortable and stylish.
Photo series with 9 pictures
The bathrobe? Bought! The shower mat? Clear! The bathroom accessories? Useful! But what should the diving goggles in the bathroom cabinet do? Cathren provides information: “So that you don’t get red eyes when you shower.” Respect: what everyone thinks of. “No, no, joking aside: the glasses are there so that nothing falls into your eyes when you look out the train window,” adds the friendly stewardess on the Rovos Rail. When traveling by train, slightly different laws apply. And on top of that, take a ride on the “most luxurious train in the world” from Cape Town to Pretoria. Company founder Rohan Vos, who started with his first train in 1989 and is now touring all over Africa, advertises with this slogan. The train boss Daphne describes the twelve cars as a “moving museum” – “So don’t do rock’n’roll in the compartment”. Cell phones are prohibited in the public areas of the train. You will look in vain for television and radio. Nothing should distract from the landscape and especially not from the train. >>
At 11.00 a.m. sharp: Three whistles and the Rovos Rail starts moving. The first kilometers are unspectacular, lead through the outskirts of Cape Town. Daphne’s xylophone ring comes just in time. In the future, this signal will sound regularly twice a day and will call you to eat in the dining car. It has nothing of Deutsche Bahn bistro flair: Heavy curtains on the windows, lots of plush, leather chairs, waiters in tails and bow ties.
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The food could also come straight from a star restaurant: the three-man kitchen team brings lobster, Karoo lamb, South African sago pudding, fine cheese and the best South African wines to the table. In the evenings, suits and ties are mandatory for men and dresses for women. Outside, it slowly goes into the winelands, later the train winds its way up to 1,800 meters. All of this at a top speed of 60 kilometers per hour. The rail network does not provide much more in some places. >>
But much more is not wanted – slow driving as a luxury. As if out of nowhere, Matjiesfontein appears in the savannah in the early evening. A few houses, two museums, a historic gas station and a few meters of paved road – the place is manageable. When the train stops, there are more tourists than locals. Matjiesfontein was founded in 1890 when James Logan, a Cape Government Railways agent, was trying to recover from a lung condition in the mountains. He built a hotel that is still one of the main attractions of the place today. A little bit of horror should not be missing here in the wilderness. Tourist guide John pulls a picture out of his pocket. He has probably already shown it around a hundred times: A ghost can be seen next to two people: “That is the ghost of Tommy,” he explains. Tommy was a wounded British soldier from the Boer War who was treated at Matjiesfontein, and John has many other stories to tell about the place. He prefers to do this in the old red double-decker bus that waits in front of the train station and takes the train passengers on a sightseeing tour through the town – “the shortest sightseeing tour in all of Africa”, as John says with a wink. A short blow of the trumpet – “It’s Showtime”, he roars into the microphone in his smoky voice, and the bus rattles off at five kilometers per hour. “We’re turning left because we can’t turn right,” he explains. The passengers laugh. “The building on the left is the first school in Matjiesfontein – and the last,” he explains at the dilapidated school building. “And with that we’re already halfway through the tour.” The second and last attraction is the cricket pitch, where an international match was played many years ago. Today it serves as the turning point for John’s bus.
In the meantime, on the train, Cathren has prepared the room for the night. Even the electric blanket is on. “Please switch off again before going to sleep,” warns the hostess, “we don’t want any grilled passengers.” “Are frozen ones better”? The first thing that goes into the head in the morning. The South African winter did a great job of the night. The temperatures have fallen below freezing point, puddles in the savannah have frozen, a thick layer of hoarfrost lies over the landscape. The cold has crept into the compartment through the windows and the door. A warm tea in the panorama car perks you up. Outside, the sun rises and bathes the landscape in a very special light: hardly anywhere in the world do the colors shine so intensely, a real firework of colors for the eyes. At breakfast, the sun shines through the window of the dining car. The journey continues through the Great Karoo. The view extends for kilometers. There are hardly any traces of civilization. Every now and then there are a few sheep and springboks to be seen, every few kilometers a troop of workers preparing the rails. The morning flies by in the panorama car, which has quickly become the most popular meeting place – not only because there are drinks of all kinds here around the clock. >>
You slowly get to know your fellow travelers – there are just 31 – and start talking. There are a few wealthy South Africans, and especially foreigners, who use the Rovos Rail. South Africa is not a country for train drivers. In the times of apartheid, trains were considered a means of transport for the poor. Just in time for the second stop on the journey, the train gets so warm that the heating is switched to air conditioning. The sun shines mercilessly even in the South African winter. The main attractions of Kimberley are huge and very small – and both are directly related. Because Kimberley is the diamond city of South Africa. The diamonds are brought here from all over the country for classification. They are offered for sale in countless shops and are also being dismantled in some places. But no longer at the Big Hole – the largest man-made hole in the ground. A museum has been created right next door, which offers insights into diamond mining, but also the largest diamond collection in the world. Part of it is the largest uncut diamond ever found. He is also the first from Kimberley to be discovered by a little boy playing in the middle of the 19th century and thus triggered a huge diamond rush. In the following years more and more soldiers of fortune came to the region. The de Beer brothers, however, made the greatest loss. Their mine in Kimberley has grown into the world’s largest diamond producer and dealer. Shortly after leaving Kimberley, one of the most spectacular sections of the train journey is on the program. At first it looks like a big black spot in the middle of Lake Kamfers Dam. Only when you get closer does it become clear that there are tens of thousands of flamingos – scientists assume 50,000 – that have their home here. The next morning the scenic beauties are over. The train rattles through the suburbs of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Apart from factories, business parks and houses there is hardly anything to see now. So it is a welcome change for the guests that a steam locomotive is harnessed to the train just before the train station in Capital Park. Rohan Vos originally had the idea of having the trains run entirely with the steam-powered machines. But the South African railway authority thwarted his plans: too dangerous, was the comment. The lovingly restored locomotives are now in the locomotive shed and are only used for the last few meters of the route. When the end of the journey comes in sight, it’s time to pack up. In terms of punctuality, Deutsche Bahn could learn a bit from the Rovos Rail. At 11.00 a.m., you have reached Capital Park. But for once, all travelers would have had nothing against a delay. An overview of the most beautiful luxury train journeys can be found here.
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