Saturday, November 16, 2013

Orient Express - London to Venice

Thursday 31-October-2013

The back story: we originally booked for our actual 20th wedding anniversary on the 30th October. Since the schedule was Venice to London we didn't fancy returning home as the culmination of the journey. Instead we booked a half journey Venice to Paris with the plan being a couple of days in Paris before returning home.

A friend of ours said that you got a 25% discount with Nectar. We were dubious but so it turned out: 25% off a big number is a big saving - that is some serious money (http://www.nectar.com/spend/orient-express.points).

A couple of weeks later Venice Simplon-Orient-Express wrote to say that journey was cancelled and, if we cared to rebook, they would give us a further 20% discount, Shedding crocodile tears, we booked the full London to Venice on the the 31st, the anniversary of our honeymoon instead, at a total 45% discount - result!

Departure lounge, Victoria Station Platform 2
Departure lounge, Victoria station, Platform 2

The first part of the journey is 30's vintage British Pullman - Victoria to Folkstone with brunch. The carriages are all restored originals full of wonderful wood panelling.

British Pullman - Mary with Brunch
Bellini and Brunch

At Folkstone we transferred to executive coaches to cross the channel via Le Chunnel. On the French side we boarded the Orient-Express proper.

Orient Express - our maitre du cabin, Thibault
Orient Express Sleeper Carriage with our Maitre de Cabine, Thibault

The train consists of three restaurant cars, a bar car and about six sleeper cars plus kitchen and staff accommodation. We found a complementary half of champagne in our cabin to sip until it was time for cocktail in the bar and dinner in the restaurant.

Orient Express - Mary in dining car
Isn't this dining room fabulous?

Dinner was lobster, the tenderest fillet steak I have ever eaten, cheese and a dessert, then a digestive and chat with fellow celebrants in the bar afterwards. Friends will not be surprised to learn that we spent the discount money we saved on the wine list.

Orient Express - bar car pre-prandial cocktail

In our cabin the seating converts into bunk beds. The corner of the cabin has a cupboard containing a washbasin for basic ablutions. The loo is at the end of the carriage. A full shower will have to wait till we get to the hotel in Venice.

Orient Express - cabin upper bunk

The next morning, after breakfast in our cabin, we watched the alps slide past our window. They changed engines at every border otherwise they'd end up with French engines in Italy.

Orient Express - through the alps 02
The train

Then it was time for a three course lunch with more fine wines.

Orient Express - lunch day 2
Prawn in filo with baked fish

A bit of a siesta followed by afternoon tea and cakes until we arrived in Venice for detraining and a water taxi transfer to our hotel.

Orient Express - farewell view of our cabin at Venice

People ask "Was it worth it?" The answer has to be "Yes". This experience is, as they say, not available in the shops. Unique.

Full set of photos on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markmclellan/sets/72157637677307075/

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Van Morrison at the Royal Albert Hall

Wednesday 30-October-2013.

Part two of our 20th wedding anniversary celebrations.

We have seen Van the Man nearly as often as Marcus Bonfanti. The first time was on my birthday nearly a decade ago when we both agreed it was the best concert we had ever been to. We have seen him another thrice and this makes number five. He did not disappoint on this occasion either.

Mick Brown of The Telegraph agrees in a 5 star review:

"Legendary grump, Van Morrison, was in unusually jovial spirits as he lit up the Albert Hall with a stunning performance. [...]

By now it was apparent that something remarkable was happening. Van Morrison was visibly enjoying himself. [...]


The end piece of this performance was All In The Game, with Morrison’s scat vocals fluttering around the melody like a butterfly, seguing into You Know What They’re Writing About - "the poetry section" as he gruffly announced - its stream of consciousness phrases "meet me down by the water... I’ve got no safety net... going to the burning ground’, building to a thrilling climax.

Artistry at work. And - astonishingly - with a smile."

A great wedding anniversary celebration with the Orient Express to look forward to.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Marcus Bonfanti at the Royal Albert Hall

Wednesday 30-October-2013.

Part one of our 20th wedding anniversary celebrations.

We had already booked our tickets for Van Morrison in the evening when we discovered that Marcus Bonfanti was playing during the afternoon. So we decided to make it a double header with supper in between. We bought a daytime stroller ticket and headed up at lunchtime for an afternoon of wandering about from stage to stage.


We started with Marcus. To quote the man himself "we're gonna do a 10pm style show for you at 2pm!" It was certainly his loudest gig yet and he did the full-on rock guitar god for a whole hour. My ears were ringing as we wandered off to catch the tail end of Natalie Williams' set then stayed on for Liane Carroll.

Afterwards we hung around in the new Berry Brothers and Rudd wine bar sipping champagne until it was time for our pre-show meal in the Coda Restaurant.