Escape Routes: Single Berth Train Travel
By Gretchen Kelly
It’s supposed to be the soul of romance in travel – the train journey. Spies, lovers, assassins and princesses in disguise all ride trains like The Orient Express, spending a lot of time sliding up and down the corridors in slinky silk robes with a flute of champagne in one hand and a gun in the other.
The reality is, shall we say, a tad different but in a way, just as romantic.
I’ve traveled on both the original Orient Express (from Venice to London) and the newer Asian model, the Eastern and Oriental Express (from Singapore to Bangkok). I’ve also done the night train from Cairo to Aswan (scary!) and recently, the Caledonian Sleeper Express from Inverness, Scotland to London. And yes, I was traveling solo (without the gun and gown but with as much champagne as I could snag).
If you’ve always wanted to travel on the Orient Express and have the bucks to shell out for a single berth ($4,750 for a single berth from Venice to London roundtrip, book at www.orient-express.com) then a journey on the original Orient-Express is for you. This is the original Art Deco train of legend, restored and refitted for modern rail travel but every bit as beautiful as you’d imagine it to be. The cabins and cars are all different but all plush red velvet and precious woods. Your admission ticket gets you a dinner, a pair of slippers and a bathrobe that you get to take home with you.
From Venice to Calais, the cars go through some pretty awesome Alpine scenery, stopping at Paris to let on more passengers. As a single female passenger, though, you should be aware that most, if not all of your fellow passengers will be 75 plus couples on their umpteenth honeymoon. Rail stewards will also want to place you at the dinner table with the random lone females they can find, which is OK if you’re feeling chatty. I got a widow from Kansas who talked about her dear departed all night. Where was James Bond when you needed him? At Calais you take a special Chunnel transport ending up in Britain where the British Pullman takes you on to London and Oxford (my final destination). This was my favorite leg. The stewards are like something out of Harry Potter, funny, witty and well….British. The champagne flows more freely and the day trippers who get on for the ride are more fun than the long haul passengers. Any way you look at it, a trip on this grand olde dame of romantic rails is worth the price of admission.
Orient-Express also operates the “Eastern Oriental Express” from Singpore to Bangkok (or visa versa). This journey is longer. (Can be up to three nights to the one on the London/Venice route). The train is a reproduction of an old sleeper train, not an original. Yes, you’ll feel like Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express, but again, the fellow passengers will likely be retired couples from Kansas, not spies from Chungking.
Luxe Not So Much
Ask any dyed in the wool traveler and they’ll have a shabby/cool train story for you. The Siberian Express is a good one. So is the Cairo to Aswan night train. This famous old train from the Pyramids to the Valley of the Kings is noteworthy because it travels through some rough territory along the way. In the middle of the night stewards pull down the blinds to dissuade terrorist farmers from shooting at the tourists. It’s also been blown up several times by extremist bombs. So was it scary? Let’s just say after a few gin and tonics, you don’t feel it as much.
If you like your budget conscious train adventure a little less on the wild side, try British Rail’s Caledonian Sleeper Express from Inverness, Scotland to London (www.britrail.com). For the price of a first class all inclusive BritRail pass (varies) you get your own private berth on this overnight passage from the Highlands of Scotland to London’s Euston station. It’s not as luxurious as the Orient Express but you get the feeling of the romance of the rails plus breakfast in bed and the smells of fresh peat and heather freshening your cabin from the Highlands outside. London’s Euston station stop includes a complimentary fresh up shower at the Virgin First Class rail lounge. And your fellow passengers will be a lot more diverse than the vacationers on the Orient Express. Hell, you might actually find James Bond (or one of his countrymen) in the next compartment.
Women Only Cars and Passes
For travelers who are nervous about solo sleeper trains the Austrian Rail Network offers compartments on sleeper and regular trains only open to women. These compartments are closely monitored by train staff. They, along with all the major European rail routes, can be booked at the Eurail site, www.raileurope.com. Buying a Eurail pass in the US is a lot cheaper than purchasing tickets abroad so plan your trip at home and use the site if you’re riding the rails in Europe. Britrail (above, www.britrail.com) is a separate site for the British Isles.
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