... no murder, just a lot of fun
Photos by William Rafferty
One of the cars on the Orient Express - the reason for our taking this trip.
Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris - my sister and I had been to all of these
places, but you always see something new or from a different angle every time you
go. But -- what decided us to take this trip was that we would go by overnight train
from Venice to Paris aboard the Orient Express. Now, who could pass that up. Not
While in Rome we toured the city by bus, went to the Vatican Museum, the Sistine
Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. At dinner that night we sat at a table with Bill
and Diane from Vineland, New Jersey with whom we shared many of our adventures and
with whom we still keep in touch. In fact, a few months ago Margie and I had dinner
with them when they were in Boston for a convention.
We visited an ancient Roman house which has just recently been restored, took a bus
tour into the countryside where we stopped for lunch. We were supposed to go up to
the Pope's summer residence but, when we came out after lunch, it was raining so
hard that the bus could not go up the hill leading to it - we did see it from a
Then off to Florence the next day - it was still raining but we strolled through the
outdoor shopping area, had lunch at a small cafe and met for our tour of the Uffizi
Gallery, home of the Mona Lisa and other amazing paintings - but so much to see and
so little time. A full day tour of Siena and San Gimignano (say that three times
fast) through beautiful countryside of farms and vineyards was next.
And, then, motor coach to Venice, with a stop in the town of Verona, home of Juliet.
A water taxi took us to our hotel on the Guidecca Canal, our home for the next two nights.
At the suggestion of our cousin, Margie and I had both read City of Falling Angels
by John Berendt, which detailed the big fire which occurred in 1996, burning down
the Ferenze Opera House. It was so interesting to actually see the places like St.
Mark's Square, with its Cathedral and Palace of the Doges, Pitti Palace, Peggy
Guggenheim Museum, the new Opera House, the different old churches and other places
mentioned in the book, when they were pointed out on our tour of the canals and
especially on the gondola which took us to a restaurant for dinner at night.
And, finally, Day 10, we took a water taxi to the Venice train station for our
overnight trip to Paris. And there it was, the exclusively chartered Orient Express
waiting to take our group to Paris.
We had received information about riding on the Orient Express, mainly proper dress,
no jeans, shorts, etc., only one overnight bag or suit bag (the rest of our luggage
would be carried in a special baggage car), each compartment had a small sink area
with towels, etc., and, what I found most interesting, only one WC at the end of
each car. However, much to my surprise, there were no long waiting lines, even the
next morning, and everything worked out well.
Bright, shiny dark blue cars with the Orient Express insignia were waiting for us to
step across the carpet, find our designated car, board and, with the help of smiling
uniformed attendants, locate our compartment.
Margie in our compartment, Bill and Diane in theirs, and how it looked when we first entered.
We had boarded the train late morning and by the time the train had left Venice it
was time for lunch. After walking through our car, through the bar car, complete
with a very small boutique, full service bar and comfortable seating area, we
arrived at the beautifully appointed dining car. Snowy white table cloths laid with
fine china, stemware and silverware, a smiling maitre d' and waiters took care of
our every desire. Lunch was wonderful, conversation with our table mates and the
scenery gliding past the windows made for a delightful time.
The table is set for lunch,the bar car for gathering with other members of the group, and don't you just live the little sink area - no showers on this train.
Our trip took us through small and large villages in Italy, the Austrian Alps,
Liechtenstein (do you think that counts as a country I've been to?), the Swiss Alps,
into France and Paris. As it was March, and the weather was very gloomy, the scenery
was rather dull but we could see snow-covered mountains in the distance. We missed a
lot of scenery because so much of the trip was at night but the action on the train
more than made up for it.
As these sleeping, dining and bar cars had all been built in the very early 1900's,
what would be more fitting than we should celebrate in our very best "roaring 20's"
attire. The men were encouraged to wear tuxes, but a suit would do. As Diane said,
"it was quite a challenge to pack a tux in an overnight bag." Our tour guides went
through the cars with feather boas and/or feathers for the hair of the women to make
sure that we were all dressed for the occasion.
Those of us who had the second seating for dinner met in the bar car ahead of time
for cocktails and to admire the originality and creativity of some of our fellow
travelers. Some of them really got into the act - it was quite a show with top hats,
long cigarette holders, feathers, jewelry.
Our tour guides, Bill and Diane and Kay and Margie are all dressed up for the party.
If lunch was wonderful, dinner was superb and everyone was in a party mood. The
atmosphere was filled with laughter and chatter as we were all impressed with the
Orient Express. But all good things must come to an end and we had an early morning
with our 8 a.m. arrival in Paris. In our absence our compartment seating had been
turned into bunk beds and we were ready to turn in for the night.
Continental breakfast was served in our room and then, our big adventure aboard the
Orient Express was over - but we still had three days in Paris with a city tour,
trip to the Museum Orangerie (which we chose because it was not so overwhelming as
the Louvre to which we had both been, but again - so much to see, so little time). A
tour of Paris by night was delightful, especially seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up
with sparkling lights. The next day we had the option of going to Versailles (I did)
or a full day French Impressionist tour (Margie took that).
Then our Farewell Dinner at Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon Railroad Station, a
fantastic and very ornate restaurant, built in 1900 for the Paris Exhibition, was
the perfect ending to our trip. It was time to enjoy another superlative dinner, say
goodbye to our new friends, promise to stay in touch, and get ready to go home.
It was a wonderful tour, but the Orient Express was the highlight for us all. No
murder, no Inspector Clouseau, just an interesting trip back to the 1900s.
August 5, 2011