5 Go Mad on the Orient Express – Part 1

On Wednesday I told you I was doing something very exciting.

Well now I’m back to tell you all about it. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you might have had a sneak preview, if not, I can now break it to you, that I spent Wednesday on the glorious Orient Express British Pullman.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

It began a few months ago when I got an email from Akeela out of the blue including me on a press trip. I didn’t really believe it was actually happening, so filed it away in my “deal with it later” brain section. But as the date loomed I couldn’t help but excited, and a little anxious. A trip on the Orient Express is the journey of a life time, I get emails from them and occasionally swoon over how one day I will afford such a thing, and suddenly I’m going. Things like this just don’t happen to me, I don’t deserve it.

Well, I don’t know if I deserve it, but it definitely happened, so prepare to be bored to tears with photographs and tales of my adventures. I plan to split into 3 parts, as it was a long old day, and I’m sure you only have so much patience!

The 5 involved, apart from me, were Akeela, Charly from Landgirl1980, Margaret from Penny Dreadful and photographer Claire Pursglove, and thus we found ourselves yawning in disbelief at 8am on Wednesday morning in the Orient Express passenger lounge at London Victoria, clutching embossed leather ticket wallets and waiting for our first glimpse of our carriage ‘Minerva’

Our carriage was built in 1927 by the Midland Railway Carriage and Wagon Co and was used on the Devon Belle from 1947-1951. In 1951 it was used in the special Festival of Britain rake and was then part of the Golden Arrow from 1951-61. She was preserved by the Lytham Creek Railway Museum until Venice Simplon Orient Express obtained her in 1981.

All very interesting, but what does that mean in practice? It means that we entered a beautiful first class parlour car, with Edwardian style marquetry panelling, little table lamps, chairs that are nicer than anything I have in my house and overhead luggage storage that looks too good to be used.

We were all a little over excited, and were then served Bellini’s by a very nice man called Dan in a smart white coat with an amazing ability to pour drinks on a moving train. The only thing stopped us chattering and grinning inanely was the arrival of breakfast.

The train was whisking us to Bristol for a tour of the SS Great Britain, and the journey takes 4 1/2 hours, giving us plenty of time to tuck into our brunch of fruit, yoghurt, pastries, smoked salmon, potato rostis, scrambled egg and caviar. Better than yoghurt and granola in a plastic box on a regular train. The monogrammed Champagne flutes, table lamps, and other paraphernalia were all available to buy in the catalogue, but at £80 for 2 champagne flutes and £300 for a lamp I decided to stick to my normal boot fair rummagings to decorate my house.

Even silver service and polite staff can’t stretch brunch out for 4 1/2 hours, and around the time we finished our brunch it was time for an 11am ish stop at Newbury to take on more water. Apparently steam trains need lots of it, can’t think why….

We took the opportunity to go and take a peek at the outside of the train, and wander up to the engine, which we didn’t really have the time to do at Victoria station.

The steam engine itself is staffed by volunteers who maintain the engine in a workshop, and running the Orient Express British Pullman about is a chance to take it out for a spin, as it were. Between the fancy pants wood panelled carriages and the engine is a regular train carriage that serves as a staff car for the poor coal covered engineers. At this point in the day we had blue skies and sunshine, and the steam coming from the engine was just amazing against the sky.

We attracted a fair bit of attention on the platform, and had to fend off the typical “Oh you’ve dressed up!” type comments, though I do suppose if you’re going to get onto a “vintage” train, dressed like you’ve just stepped out of it’s original era then you’re bound to be faced with that sort of comment. People seemed to be delighted by our clothes and we got lots of compliments, which does take the sting out of constantly trying to explain that yes, like them we have dressed particularly smartly for a trip on the Orient Express, but, like them, these were still our “normal” clothes and not a costume.

Of course if you’re going to start posing about on trains you’re going to attract some attention anyway, like the shy and retiring flowers that we are. (I’m missing a picture of Margaret here, I think it’s because I was using her camera to take her photos!)

My dress is from Stop Staring, which you’ve seen several times before. Akeela is wearing Jasper Garvida A/W12, Charly made her own dress (just the day before!) and Claire is wearing Tara Starlet. Margaret was wearing a gorgeous fringed vintage dress, which I’m sure will show up later!

Once our stop was over and we were all safely back on board, it was time to go exploring. Every carriage on the train is decorated differently, with different styles of panelling, different colour schemes and different lighting.

My favourite was Gwen. Built in 1932, she joined the British Pullman in 1999. The car has a blue colour scheme and amazing art deco details.

We then basically run amok up and down the train, pestering staff and grinning like loons while we photographed everything we could find. We found the chef preparing our afternoon canapes. A tricky and fiddly job on a moving train, and much to my delight I noted that the kitchen contained a spiderman clock. Claire was a hit with Alan, the Head Steward and we generally made a nuisance of ourself.

The staff were all very tolerant of our excitement and general misbehaviour, and other guests were mostly fascinated by our hair. There’s a fair few people on the trip of a life time who will apparently be going home with pictures of us on their cameras, which is a weird thought.

Just before we arrive at Bristol and end Part One of the trip I’m going to show you something you probably won’t see again unless you fork out for a trip. The reason for this is very few people apart from me are mental enough to take their cameras to the toilet so they can take photos.

This, lovely people, is the toilet on the Orient Express British Pullman. More accurately it’s the toilet at one end of Minerva carriage, as all the toilets are different. They have different mosaics on the floors, different coloured marble surfaces etc.

And with that, dear readers, we arrive at Bristol Temple Meads Train Station for what will soon become Part Two……..