Vintage Train Travel: A Journey Back in Time
Updated: Sep 30, 2019
I have always enjoyed watching old movies and find trains to be a rather romantic way to travel. I love in the movies where the train rolls into the station, steam billowing all around, everyone has their own cabins and all sorts of drama ensues in the narrow corridors and dining cars. In the evening, champagne and whiskey are served by waiters in white gloves and enjoyed alongside a multi-course dinner. Afterwards, perhaps a band strikes up in the lounge cars and everyone dances the night away. It is the kind of experience you watch in black and white and longingly wish you could join in. "Ah, well" you say to yourself "that was another day...another time." Well, good news folks, I am here to tell you that you can indeed still travel this way, and it is everything you imagined it would be.
While I was in Britain recently I had the distinct pleasure of spending a day aboard the Belmond British Pullman and I can honestly say that it was an extraordinary experience! I woke early that morning, giddy with excitement as sipped my morning coffee out on our balcony and watched the sun rise over London before I pulled out the dress set aside just for this day. Belmond let me know that "you can never be overdressed on the Pullman" so I did not intend to disappoint. We made our way to London's Victoria rail station and headed over to Platform 2 where the Pullman lounge is located. A friendly chap in white livery greeted us and offered up a latte before we got settled in on the cushy sofas in the lounge. As the Pullman rolled into the station there was a buzz in the crowd as everyone wanted to head out and take a look at the vintage train rolling into the station.
Our seats were in the beautiful Ione carriage and we did take time to wander through all the carriages during the trip. Each one is unique and you can tell that an extraordinary amount of effort has gone into preserving these beautiful carriages. Some have carried the Queen and Queen Mother, as well as other members of the royal family and nobility while two were in the funeral procession for Sir Winston Churchill. You can tell the staff on the train is very proud of the heritage and they are all eager to share stories if you ask.
The day we spent on the train consisted of a five hour ride through Kent, also known as the "Garden of England." Considering the fact that England as a whole is well known for having the world's greatest gardens, you can only imagine what Kent must be like! During our meander through the countryside we enjoyed a five course lunch complete with champagne, wine, and of course tea. As we pulled through the many stations on our route it was amusing to see the expressions on the faces of people on the platform waiting for their 'normal' train - they could scarcely believe their eyes! One of my favorite moments came about mid way through our loop around Kent when we made our first and only stop of the day. As the train pulled into the station you could hear a jazz band playing on the platform and as we stepped off the train we were presented with tall flutes of champagne and copious amounts of oysters pulled fresh from the sea not far from where we stood. After dancing on the platform, eating a few too many oysters, and finishing our champagne, it was time to hop back on the train and continue our journey through the sunny hills of Kent.
When I first set out in the morning I had thought that five hours seemed like plenty of time, and in some ways it was the perfect amount of time. We ate, drank, and danced while exploring a 170 mile circle around the countryside all while arriving back in London in time for the theater, but it truly does leave you wanting more. And fortunately, there is the option for more! While the train I rode on only does day trips to various places around London, there are other trains that you can take for a week! You could choose to travel through the majestic Scottish Highlands where you can visit stately homes, sip the finest whiskey, and don a traditional kilt or you could head to Peru and travel on the highest train route in the world through the Andes as you make you way to Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Machu Picchu, and beyond. Or you could board a luxury train in Venice, dance the night away, and before you know it you'll find yourself in London. There are so many beautiful landscapes to see from the window of a train, and now, more than ever in the modern era, there are many trains that will take to these places in absolute luxury.
Plus, who doesn't want to see the world in total relaxation, with a drink in your hand, and the wind in your hair? It really is just like the old movies, and while Carey Grant might not be there, you can almost see him ducking out of the cabin ahead of you as you explore the gleaming corriders of the train.