This was to be an “experience of a lifetime” holiday with our friends Trevor and Helen Rankin; with them celebrating their 45 wedding anniversary and for us, Josephine’s (if you don’t know, don’t ask) birthday. After a completely uneventful journey, all flights being on time and the Aviance business lounge at Gatwick North being a haven of peace and quiet whilst dispensing restorative alcoholic beverages, we arrived at the Hotel Kette in Venice by water taxi in the pouring rain. 22⁰ mind you.
It is an old fashioned hotel with a charm of its own. The staff are friendly, the rooms comfortable and the prices reasonable. We dropped our bags and hied us into the bar for a much needed cool drink. No local beer, but they do a great line in 7.7 proof Danish Ceres!
We elicited the concierge’s help in picking a restaurant for dinner and he recommended the Antico Martini.The report on this can be found as a separate post. It was magnificent!
Having got back to our room we discovered that it was only nine pm so we ordered a bottle of Chianti from room service and endeavoured to stay awake until a reasonable hour for bed. I will not enlighten you with further details of the evening.
We awoke early to the sound of the hotel service boat exchanging laundry three floors below. The weather had cleared so I decided to go out for a stroll and found that St. Marks square was about a 3 minute walk away. Six thirty in the morning is the ideal time to wander the streets of Venice. The only people about are the early shop keepers, joggers and a few hardy tourists. The clean smell of the sea wafts between the buildings and one can take in the sights without being bustled along.
I collected Josephine and retraced the walk before meeting up for breakfast at eight. A goodly spread it was; fruit, cereals, cold meats, cheese and coffee to die for.
We were collected by a water taxi to take us to the station to embark on the next stage. We thought that it would just run round the Grand Canal, however, we were treated to a tour of the one way system which short cuts the curves of the major thoroughfare.
Our bags were collected from the taxi and transported to the booking in desk for the Orient Express. A word of warning; do not use the currency exchange on the station – I was offered €47.60 for £60. I know sterling is not particularly strong but that is ridiculous.
The train, 17 coaches long, is everything that you would expect; even before one embarks it exudes an aura of opulence, added to by the liveried carriage stewards who greet you at the door. The cabins are luxurious without being large; with built in washing facilities, complimentary dressing gowns, fan etc. As we had adjoining cabins we opened the connecting door which gave the appearance of far more room. Our carriage steward duly instructed us as to how everything worked.
We went to the first sitting for lunch, a three course extravaganza starting with asparagus lasgne and followed by monkfish tail on a sweet pepper crepe with a curry sauce, fennel and basmati rice in a red pepper shell. Josephine and I chose a Chianti Classico whilst Trevor and Helen went for the Sancerre. The sweet was a mixture of fresh berries with ice-cream and splashed with fresh prosecco. Yum!
We retired to our accommodation to take a snooze and watch the passing scenery. If you are contemplating a trip on the Orient Express do pick the Venice to Paris option. We have spoken to people who have taken the London to Venice route but the views are of flat countryside and by the time it reaches the Alps it is dark.
Dinner is a black tie affair, although this is not de rigueur , and it was disappointing the number of people who appeared in lounge suits. This did not detract from the food. We opted for the 7.00 sitting which proved a good choice. This time four courses, opening with sautéed filet of Turbot meunière, tarragon and tomato sauce and diced vegetable ragout (not my favourite accompaniment). The main was a roast rack of lamb with pesto and simmered purple artichokes, accompanied by a lamb spring roll with parmesan cheese and crispy potato “Anna” cake. The lamb was perfect. I would normally cremate mine but this managed to be medium and still fall off the bone. A cheese board followed, fairly frugal but tasty and then came the coconut blancmange with cardamom scented mango. If this was not enough coffee (or tea) was served with pastries.
We hied ourselves down to the bar for a nightcap. The bar seats 39 people approximately and the second dinner sitting were there. We managed to acquire seats and get served. What followed can only be described as Pythonesque. more people came from our sitting and passed down the car towards the bar and the piano. This continued for some 30 minutes. At about 9.30 they called the second sitting for dinner and people began to file back up the carriage. I am still do not know where the came from as once again there was a steady stream. I am just glad that we did not opt for the 9.00 dinner as it was served nearly 45 minutes late which meant it would not have finished before 11.00 – not too good to sleep on!
We returned to our couchette which was now transformed into a sleeping compartment with bunk beds. I had the top. Given that it was a strange environment we slept remarkably well. Note that these are Victorian and there is no en-suite toilet. They supply dressing gowns (€40 from the boutique if you want to take one with your) and slippers for night time excursions.
We had booked breakfast, which is served in the compartment, for 7.00 so at 6.45 our steward arrived to convert it back to a sitting room. A class act that took no longer than three minutes! Breakfast consisted of fruit juice, fruit salad, yoghurt, rolls, croissants, honey, cheese, jam with coffee and tea on the side!
We rolled majestically through the countryside for a further hour and duly arrived at the Gare de l’Est around 8.20.
Our luggage was delivered to us at the end of the platform and the next stage of our adventure began!
Click on the photo below to go to the album for the trip and the choose “slideshow”.
To read about the Paris adventure click here.