Friday, April 30, 2010

VSOE British Pullman

We began with an early train up to Victoria to check in at Platform 2, for our special day with VSOE British Pullman. There at the end of the platform is the special waiting room, just opposite the glass doors through to where we board the train. As we waited London commuters poured down from their trains off on the daily grind. The lucky travellers on the British Pullman were relaxed and unhurried, dressed smartly as suited the occasion, with an air of anticipation of what was to come.

Some twenty minutes before departure, the train was pulled gently up to the platform, its antique coaches gleaming with glossy paint and sparkling brass trim. We had seats in a coach named Gwen. All the coaches have their original names and we soon found out that many had been rescued from completely different uses – for example, restaurants and houses and even from museums. Each has been lovingly restored to the original high standard and our coach was very pretty with tables for two on either side of the coach, with the seating being plushly upholstered wing back armchairs.
We were welcomed on board with a Bellini – peach nectar topped with champagne, which we sipped as we waited to depart. Almost without noticing, the train slid out of Victoria station, just a slight tinkling of cutlery to herald our departure. At first, we had a view of the Thames as we crossed the river by Battersea Power Station, such a sad building, these days, then slowly on through the South London suburbs. Our team of staff quietly served a delicious brunch as we glided through the landscape, passing some familiar landmarks such as Epsom Racecourse on our way to Southampton.
When brunch was over everyone decided it was time to discover the rest of the train and we joined several passengers as we strolled from carriage to carriage to look at the craftsmanship that had gone into creating some exquisite interiors. Beautiful marquetry adorns the wooden walls of the carriages; some decorative flower garlands; also representations of muses and goddesses; and some full imaginary scenes. We discovered that Gwen was built in 1932 for the Brighton Belle and that the Queen Mum had used it to travel down to Brighton in 1948. In 1972 Gwen was sold off and became a restaurant for 16 years until VSOE bought it back and restored it. The carriage joined the British Pullman train in 1999. It is decorated with a Pearwood shell motif on English Walnut. (I wonder if that’s Sapient Pearwood from which the luggage is made?) The history of all the carriages can be found on the VSOE website.
The train’s first stop was at Winchester where several passengers disembarked for another destination. We continued on through the English countryside until we reached Southampton Parkway where we in turn disembarked and boarded coaches – some for Beaulieu and ourselves for Exbury Gardens, a Rothschild estate garden. It was just a short journey to the Gardens in the New Forest and we spotted some of the famous New Forest ponies on our way. At Exbury we could have taken a guided tour, but we preferred to take our own pace through the avenues of azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias. The gardens were in superb condition and the views across the estuary, the hidden gardens and various water features were breathtaking. At the end of our visit we were able to take a ride on the narrow gauge steam train, complete with commentary from our volunteer guard. This took us around the part of the garden we hadn’t been able to reach on foot. At last, with a quick browse around the shop, we again boarded our coach. This time we drove all the way to Southampton docks, where the train was waiting for us at the Queen Elizabeth II terminal.

Our steward welcomed us on board and we were soon sipping our chilled champagne and nibbling canapés as the slight tinkling of cutlery announced our departure. We held up the Southampton traffic as the dock gates opened across the level crossing and we slipped through rush hour traffic onto the rail network. We passed by the Saints’ home – that’s St. Mary’s Stadium, home of Southampton F.C., and were soon leaving the city behind to glide quietly through the English countryside in the direction of London Victoria.

Dinner was served on immaculate china with gleaming silverware, starched napkins and tablecloths, and crystal glasses for our wine and water. We even had time for a leisurely coffee and a chocolate to round the day off, before at about 20.30 we arrived back at Victoria. Our dream day was over and reality came rushing back as we sped off to catch the train home from Waterloo. But the memories linger on and the photographs remind us of our day out on the Orient Express.

Find out about the carriages here
Exbury Gardens
Sapient Pearwood

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Last night we attended Jazz @ Mandolay, an evening of top jazz at the Mandolay Hotel, Guildford. As they say on their website "There are six top quality Jazz @ Mandolay gigs every year, and we pride ourselves by including young talent from various schools and colleges as the pre band, and then the headline bands finish the evenings off."
We booked dinner with our jazz and enjoyed a sumptuous meal from the excellent Mandolay kitchen. Tables of ten are filled as people book and we joined a very jolly group of folk all out for an evening of excellence.
The first performer was Linley Weir who with her accompanist brought some favourite jazz songs to her audience with her golden brown voice. To follow was the superb band of Ian Youngs All Stars with Sian Jones. We had a wonderful time foot-tapping to Mainstream, Trad and some more modern pieces as well as some real old classics. So good were the performances that the audience stood to applaud when the show was over.
We walked home humming some well known tunes and looked at the moon with its weird halo, wondering if this was more evidence of the volcano?

Mandolay Hotel
Ian Young All Stars
Sian Jones