Laura Clark is a leisure travel advisor for Brownell. Read below for her account of a recent trip aboard Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient Express.
After a delightful evening at The Londra Palace in Venice where we enjoyed a fabulous room with a balcony overlooking the Grand Canal, my mother and I boarded the Venice Simplon-Orient Express.
The train was absolutely fabulous. It is truly a step back in time –to when everything was done to perfection. The trains are original cars that were made in the 1920s. We had two cabins which opened in the middle to form a suite. We each had our own double seat and sink. The toilets are on either end of the car. It was quite a warm day in Venice when we departed, so the windows were open and the small fans created a nice quiet breeze. We sipped sparkling wine as we took off and made a toast to a wonderful week on the Venice Simplon-Orient Express.
The VSOE staff is the very best in service –our hostess, Val Ottofaro of Belmond, was a dream! The dining car was just outstanding. The French chef on the train is magnificent. There was a set menu each day (which you could keep as a souvenir) yet you could request other items if you prefer.
As we settled in after a delicious lunch, we watched the Italian country side go by as we made our way to Krakow, Poland. Having cocktails in the bar car while the piano player played in the background was like a step back into the Roaring 20s. Most of the men were in the recommended black tie and a majority of ladies had long gowns on.
Our suite was converted to two lower beds, with fine linens and mints on our pillow. After a wonderful night sleep, we awoke to the sights of Poland –wildflowers and long leaf pines were everywhere! Breakfast was served by our steward, Pietro when we awoke- fresh fruit, croissants, and French bread made right on the train! Our morning is spent at leisure as we made new friends and enjoy the landscape.
We arrived in Krakow and were welcomed by a group of singers and dancers. After the entertainment, we boarded horse drawn buggies for a tour of Krakow Old Town and Jewish Quarter. The city is lovely –a beautiful town on the river loaded with churches and castles! We spent the night in the Sheraton Krakow, a very nice hotel in a great location where our luggage was already waiting. We enjoyed an evening stroll along the cobblestone streets and dined in an authentic Polish restaurant –flavored vodkas, wild boar, rabbit and scampi – delicious!
The following morning started with an incredible breakfast buffet with made to order eggs. Afterward was a delightful stroll around town, shopping, and a sightseeing trip to the churches and the castle. The market in Krakow has been going since medieval days. Our evening was spent in the Salt Mine. After a tight elevator ride down the shaft, the sights below were incredible – the mine is no longer a working mine but a wonderful tourist attraction. After a wonderful small group tour, we rounded a corner to be serenaded by a 15 piece orchestra. Dinner was a 6 course meal eaten while being entertained by a duet on the harp and violin. The following morning, after a leisurely gondola ride, we boarded the train just in time for dinner and departure to our next destination.
The next day we arrived in Dresden just before lunch and were received by a duet of horn players. We took a walking tour of old Dresden with our other train travelers and had a fabulous lunch buffet at our new home for the next two nights: The Taschenbergpalais Kempinski. Dresden is a lovely town. It was completely destroyed in World War II yet the buildings have been built back in the same style as before. The Opera House is something to behold as well. The most impressive were the collections –the art and jewelry were beautiful but the porcelain collection took my breath away. The evening was on our own and we joined Val and group for a delicious German dinner.
The next afternoon we met our train companions for a wonderful river boat cruise. The band, champagne and canapés were an added highlight of our VSOE experience. After a walk through a lovely area, we had a private organ concert in a lovely small church. Dinner followed at a nearby castle; a lovely evening with new friends.
We were thrilled to arrive back to our train for one last hurrah. Afternoon tea in our suite was followed by a tour of the train kitchen. Our final evening was a true celebration of a great vacation. The food was well beyond everyone’s expectations.
What a wonderful trip! Thank you Belmond and Brownell.