by Robert Adams
The Orient Express Opening Photo

The 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of the legendary train. The world’s elite, as well as royalty, celebrities, courtesans, and spies, intermingled as they traveled in opulence throughout Europe.

Robert Adams

There is something supremely seductive about train travel. Ever since my childhood, I have been fascinated by trains, the destinations they visit, the people you meet along the way, and the occasional mystery that may take place onboard. Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way. Writers and filmmakers have created a litany of work that celebrates
trains and the role they play in our lives. The very first “train” film I saw was Von Ryan’s Express, starring Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard. I was mesmerized from the start as Sinatra and his fellow POWs escape from a concentration camp, take over a train, and pretend to be Nazis so they can make their way to freedom in Switzerland. Since then, I’ve discovered other exciting films that I watch every chance I get. These include The Train, starring Burt Lancaster; Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes; Travels With My Aunt, starring Maggie Smith in one of the best roles of her career; From Russia With Love, with Sean Connery as James Bond (which has some great scenes on the Orient-Express); and, of course, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which takes place entirely on the train.

With this in mind, you can imagine how I felt when I received an invitation to journey from Venice to Paris on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (www.orient-express.com). It was a dream come true! I would travel from my favorite city in Europe, across the Swiss Alps, and into Paris onboard the most luxurious train in the world. First, however, preparations had to be made. My partner and I needed white dinner jackets, tuxedos, cufflinks, pocket squares…and…?

Luckily for us, prior to our trip on the Orient-Express, we had reserved a suite at the Cipriani (www.hotelcipriani.com) in
Venice. I had read about the Cipriani in many magazines, but nothing prepared me for the experience we were about to have. The moment we pulled up to the dock in the water taxi, we entered a world of relaxed sophistication. Everyone made us feel completely at home and the excitement for us was palpable. Our suite, with a private terrace overlooking the hotel’s Olympic-size, saltwater swimming pool, was a sanctuary of comfort and relaxation. Awaiting us was a chilled bottle of
Prosecco, which we immediately opened so we could make a toast to Venice and the adventures that lay ahead.

Cabin Steward - Orient Express

Cabin Steward
Opening Photo : Gordon Swanson; all other photos: Venice Simplon Orient-Express

Every morning, we made sure to do at least a few laps in the pool before enjoying an al fresco breakfast by the lagoon. During the afternoons we would sunbathe and read, trying to fight the urge to fight the crowds. From previous experience, we were aware that the best time to explore the city is after sundown, when most of the tourists have returned to their buses and hotels. It is in the evenings that the city is most magical. Hidden squares reveal themselves and come alive with
music, laughter, performers, and the intoxicating smells of Italian food being prepared and served at numerous restaurants frequented by locals and visitors in the know. After dinner is the best time to wander around the Piazza San Marco. From 10 P.M. to midnight, you can dance to various bands playing everything from jazz to pop to waltzes. Every night we would stop by the Gran Caffe Chioggia for a drink and to listen to the Peace and Love Philharmonic Orchetsra, whose repertoire includes the music of Doris Day, Burt Bacharach, and Stan Getz. When the clocks in the square struck midnight, and the bells began to chime, we would walk back toward the Grand Canal and the private boat that takes guests to and from the Cipriani.

Even if you’re not staying at the Cipriani, it’s a great place to go for dinner. The Fortuny Restauant serves excellent cuisine in an elegant setting, while the casual Cip Club overlooking the Piazza San Marco and the Grand Canal provides the perfect backdrop for a romantic dinner.

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