I wish I could’ve been a passenger on the legendary Orient Express during the golden age of travel. The luxury train service made famous by Agatha Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express is once again traversing the countries of Europe but the fare is a little too expensive for me. I experienced the next best thing by booking a trip on her sister train, Belmond British Pullman.
Belmond British Pullman carries passengers on the London to Folkestone leg of Venice Simplon-Orient-Express journeys to exotic destinations like Venice, Budapest and Istanbul. They also offer a variety of tours in Great Britain including a Murder Mystery Lunch (the dates unfortunately didn’t fit our plans). So we took a day trip to Historic Canterbury in southeastern England.
We were booked on Cygnus, a vintage carriage that has been used by travelling royalty and visiting heads of state. The car also served in Winston Churchill’s funeral train and made an appearance in the 1979 film Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman. The word ‘cygnus’ is Latin for swan and the bird is depicted in the carriage's mosaic flooring tiles.
Day passengers enjoy the same gourmet food and impeccable service as those continuing onward to join the Orient Express in France. Plush velvet armchairs replaced the typical train seats and tables were set with fine linens, crystal and silverware.
I was quite content to sip on a sparkling Bellini and review the Brunch menu while I waited for the train’s departure from Victoria Station. Soon the Kent countryside – long known as the Garden of England – rolled past my window as liveried stewards served fruit salad, scrambled eggs and Scottish smoked salmon (plus a dollop of caviar).
By noon we arrived in Canterbury for a walking tour of the historic city core.
|The Cathedral City of Canterbury, Kent|
|Canterbury's Medieval City Walls Made of Flint|
|St. George's Clock Tower, Burgate|
|The Buttermarket and War Memorial|
|Christ Church Gate, Entry to Canterbury Cathedral|
Canterbury Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and headquarters of the Anglican Church. The long list of Archbishops begins in 579 AD with St. Augustine who established Christianity in England.
|Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh (2015)|
|First Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Augustine|
In 1170, Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered by four of King Henry II’s knights in an area of the cathedral known as the Martyrdom. A sculpture consisting of four swords represents the four assassins. Becket was soon canonized and pilgrimages to his shrine inspired Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. King Henry VIII ordered the destruction of the shrine in 1538 and a candle now burns in its place.
|Swords Point Sculpture, by Giles Blomfield (1986)|
|Site of the Original Becket Shrine in Trinity Chapel|
Following our visit to Canterbury Cathedral we travelled by motor coach to the port town of Folkestone on the Strait of Dover to await Orient Express passengers returning from the Continent. A jazz band performed while we waited to re-board the train.
|Folkestone West Station|
On the return journey to London I settled back in my comfy armchair for Afternoon Tea with traditional finger sandwiches (egg, smoked salmon, chicken, and cream cheese with cucumber) and an assortment of fancy pastries. The county of Kent is known for its vineyards and sparkling wines so it was fitting that they also served a glass of local Hush Heath sparkling rosé.
I may never take a journey on the Orient Express but I’m very satisfied with my luxurious day on the rails with Belmond British Pullman.