- The Orient Express of the North
"I would like to say that I was born on the Orient Express as my mother took her bi-monthly trip to Istanbul. Or that I was smuggled out of China as a tiny baby, wrapped in silk and hidden in the guard's van in a trunk."
Lisa St. Aubin de Teran - "Off the Rails - Memoirs of a Train Addict"
You no longer need to travel to Venice or Istanbul to experience the exquisite luxury and romance of a journey on the Orient Express. A classic 1930s-style maroon and cream Pullman, the Northern Belle, a sister train to the Venice Simplon-Orient Express British Pullman, was launched in May 2000. This luxurious train offers lunch and dinner journeys, day excursions, weekend breaks, grand tours and special events departing from several Northern UK cities, including Manchester, Liverpool, York, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The Orient Express
The name, Orient Express, immediately conjures up expectations of mystery and romance synonymous with the sophisticated elegance of the golden age of 1930`s train travel. The name is also perhaps synonymous with Agatha Christie, the crime-writer who was fascinated by the sense of adventure conjured up on a railway journey. To her the train, as much as the landscape and countries through which it passed, was a different world, a time and place where travellers are accidentally brought together, each with his or her own intentions. A railway journey, embracing the familiar and the extraordinary, created in the imagination the raw stuff of fantasy. This kind of magical experience was perfect for a writer to observe so in 1928 Agatha Christie took her first trip on the Orient-Express to Baghdad, the longest journey she had ever taken alone. In 1933 she travelled on the Orient-Express from Stamboul to London, a long journey delayed by thunderstorms and flooding, the experience of which led to her writing, Murder on the Orient Express.
My inaugural experience on board an Orient-Express train was equally exciting and glamorous. From Edinburgh my partner Ken and I caught the 18.17 Northern Belle for an evening of fine dining, entertainment and a journey northward bound.
Dressing up in a little black number with a few sparkling jewels (for me) and smart suit and silk tie (for him), we set off in style for Waverley Station, where the party atmosphere was in full swing as we are welcomed aboard by the jaunty dance music of a jazz band. As fellow passengers arrive - equally dressed up, many men in black tie although just smart dress is requested - we sense that everyone boarding the train is in celebration mood for a glitzy, fun night out.
There are five carriages named after famous British castles and stately homes such as Chatsworth and Glamis. We are in Belvoir and sink into the most comfortable spacious armchairs, surrounded by beautiful fabrics and furnishings. Our table is set very traditionally with crisp linen, polished silver and gleaming crystal; the carriage, cosily warm in contrast to the cool night outside. As we glide out of the station there is the distinctive sound of champagne corks popping for the start of our magical, mystery tour.
It was particularly magical crossing the Forth Rail Bridge, with the shape of the road bridge silhouetted across the shimmering water in the moonlight. We travelled at a gentle pace through the tiny fishing villages of Fife, winding along the Firth of Forth, before turning north to follow the East coast line.
The emphasis is on the art of relaxation with no need to rush any part of the four course dinner; First a champagne aperitif, poured perfectly by our waiter, with his left hand behind his back, (not easy on a moving train!); savoury canapés, followed by attentive, five-star service of each course throughout the evening.
We begin with a warm salad of asparagus spears, colourfully presented on large gold-rimmed plates. Then a platter of Roast Fillet of Scottish Beef, with a platter of fresh vegetables, or alternatively vegetarian filo pastry parcels, rice-stuffed vine leaves and exotic vegetables. From the wine list we selected a very smooth and rich Chilean red, Torreon de Paredes Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Journey - and Eating - Continues
By now we've crossed the famous Tay Bridge heading for Aberdeen. Time for a rich chocolate dessert - death by chocolate? Well, this is the Orient Express!. The musicians arrive to entertain us - it's a wonder we didn't all start dancing along the corridors, it's quite a party. A little more champagne please, as dinner continues with an enormous tray of creamy-ripe cheeses. How can we resist?
Over post-prandial coffee a magician appears with his pack of cards. How my personally marked 'Queen of Hearts' came to be in his wallet, I shall never know. Pure magic and a perfect end to our journey. Midnight and we are almost back in Edinburgh, yet we feel we have travelled for days.
Just as Agatha Christie wrote about her journey on the Orient-Express, I too can say, "Darling, what a journey".
Dining aboard a train as you admire the beautiful Scottish scenery flash by is an experience of true indulgence. Why not book a table for two, four, a carriage or indeed the entire train for a special celebration or corporate hospitality event. A journey on the Northern Belle as a surprise gift for family, friends or business colleagues, will certainly be remembered for years to come. For your own special journey, you can request a bottle of champagne, flowers and a cake with a personal message, whatever the occasion.
"To relax in great luxury and be cosseted by a friendly crew is the ultimate extravagance. One of the most romantic experiences in life must surely be to dine on a train."
Sir William McAlpine, former owner of the original Flying Scotsman locomotive
More Journeys on the Northern Belle
During 2002 and 2003 there are many outstanding journeys for one day, evening and weekends trips around Scotland, as well as a unique week-long tour of the UK. A new full day excursion from Edinburgh and Dumbarton takes you to Oban, travelling along the world famous West Highland line. You may then take a boat trip to Mull to visit Duart Castle. There are also special celebratory lunch and dinner trips for Valentine's Day and the week before Christmas.
The ultimate journey on board the Northern Belle must be the Great British Orient Express Tour that will take you on a leisurely itinerary across the diverse rural landscape to visit the historic cities of England, Wales and Scotland. Staying overnight in luxury hotels en-route, you will stop off in York, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Oban, the Isle of Mull, Yorkshire, Chester, Wales, Bath, Salisbury and back to London.
For those who wish to relive the style and atmosphere of the original railway journeys of the 1920s and 30s period, there are several journeys on board the Northern Belle with the added experience of the Flying Scotsman steam locomotive.
Memorable, unique and romantic, the Northern Belle - "The Orient Express of the North" offers a true taste of old-fashioned stylish luxury for that very special occasion.
For further information or to make a booking, visit the Orient Express> website or the special Northern Belle> pages.
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