It’s my husband’s birthday today. November 3rd. Our family— minus the Florida part, unfortunately— is gathering at his favorite restaurant, Il Piccolino, in West Hollywood, for the celebration. Tomorrow, he will board a train at Union Station in downtown LA, and head to New York City— a trip that will take three days. He is a very happy man.
It’s a simple train. Nothing fancy at all. Just the necessities really, and he will have his magazines, newspapers, books, and his music (always LauraPausini). He has loved trains his entire life, and he’s been on many trips around the world. Canada, India, and Australia, to name a few. But his favorite train trip, I think, was on the Orient Express, which started in London and ended in Venice two days later. A short trip, yes, but one that took his and my breath away. (So much so, in fact, that he conceived of and filmed Romance on the Orient Express, inspired by it. It starred Cheryl Ladd, Julian Sands and John Gielgud.)
The Venice Simplon-Orient Express is the world’s most authentic, timeless train. Its 1920s Art Deco cars each glisten with luxury and come at a price of $3,120 a person. But, thank God, this includes the best of champagne, drinks and meals. The day Frank and I boarded the gleaming train that departed from London Victoria station on platform 2, the weather was crisp and clear. We had seen so many photographs and read so many articles about the Orient Express, that the prospect of having a very unique experience was swelling large in our souls. We held our breaths as we were helped up the stairs of our first-of-two trains, the one that would take us to the English coast. Our seats on this train were royal-blue velvet, headrests covered in linen towels. We had hardly gotten adjusted to our splendid surroundings and were flying through Kent, when we were invited into the dining room for a lovely brunch on the way to the White Cliffs of Dover and the English Channel.
Once in France, (after, I must say, a horrendous trip on a ferry, not recommended after a meal) we boarded an exquisite royal-blue train at the Gare de l’Est in Paris. Assisted by uniformed and white-gloved attendants, we were shown to our Lalique glass- and wood-paneled room, where a rose-colored velvet couch, chairs, draperies to match, and a vase of blossoms welcomed us into its luxurious arms. As we traveled through overwhelming, picturesque stretches of France, we rested a bit, and then washed up in our small, but well-appointed salle de bain. After a visit from our butler to ask if we needed anything and to remind us that dinner was soon to be served, Frank donned his black tie and dinner jacket and I, my black lace floor-length dress. Soon, we were rocking and rolling—gracefully of course—down the carpeted corridors into the bar car.
In its wall-chandelier-splendor, it was one of the most magnificent rooms I was ever to behold, complete with a pianist playing music from years ago. Sipping champagne served to us in gleaming cut-glass crystal glasses, we reservedly chatted with other guests nearby. There was a duchess and duke; another couple, royalty from Scandinavia they suggested; and a Lady in Red— that’s what we call her even today. And there were three eighty-some-year-old gentleman train enthusiasts from Texas, who had ridden on every train in the world. After another glass of Dom Perignon, we all timidly brought out our cameras and took pictures for each other. After that we became old friends. Some time later, in a lavishly decorated dining room, we were served a feast, each of the four courses exhibiting culinary skill of great proportions, summoned up in a minuscule galley kitchen.
That night we hardly slept at all, not wanting to miss a thing. Raising the blinds every so often to reveal towns and villages, mountains and lakes and fields of growing things, all lit by dazzling stars and the moon, we finally just left it up and stared out, spellbound.
Breakfast, with two of the three men from Texas, found us weaving along contours of stone castles and church towers, finally reaching Vorarlberg, which divided Tyrol by the six-mile Arlberg Road Tunnel. Lunch (with the duchess and duke) was served as the train draped down from a highpoint on the border with Italy, and through clusters of villages abundant with orchards and vineyards. Afternoon tea, (the lady in red was nowhere to be seen, and a lovely gray-haired couple from Jaipur, India asked to join us) was offered, as the train passed by the last major city we would see, Padua,the oldest city in northern Italy, and where my favorite saint, St. Anthony was born.
When the train arrived in Venice we walked out of Santa Lucia terminal, and suddenly found ourselves on the exquisite banks of the Grand Canal. Our feet on solid, firm, motionless ground once again, the past two days seemed dreamlike, pretend, and unreal… until the lady in red whisked by us, trailed by a man with a cart of suitcases, and disappeared out of sight.
As I said, it is my husband’s birthday today. He has traveled many places in this world, by ship, by car and by plane. Sometimes he travels with me and sometimes he travels alone. But his very favorite way to get from one place to another is by train. It’s that sense of being somewhere one minute and somewhere else a moment later that excites him. Seeing it all laid out right before his eyes. He likes to slow down and reflect now and then. And glimpse the view unhurriedly as it goes by.