Categorized | OP/ED

Planes, Trains, and Motorcoaches…

Posted on 15 October 2009

It seems as though I am always on a airplane. I don’t think I need to describe an experience via a airplane as it totally depends on your airline of choice. However, my recent round trip from Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas to London, England via an American Airlines Boeing 777 was outstanding. What a pleasurable experience. However, I wish I could have avoided the five-hour layover connection to Edinburgh, Scotland. All this was soon to be forgotten. Read on.


Numerous times I have had the pleasure to travel by train. The high-speed trains in Japan, France, Italy, and Spain whisk you away with quick dispatch. Arriving in major cities in just a matter of hours. I have always been impressed with the speed and comfort these “bullet” trains possess. You typically leave from the center of a city and arrive at same. Very quick and efficient. Always on time with little or no delay or fuss. Never had I traveled on an overnight train.


Now, I can add travel by overnight train service to my experiences. I recently had the pleasure to travel on the Orient-Express Royal Scotsman accompanied by my wife Carol. This four-day experience started in Edinburgh, Scotland and traveled through the Scottish Highlands. My introduction to the Royal Scotsman was being greeted in a First Class lounge at Waverly Station where we met our fellow passengers, completed documentation needed to enhance our experience, and then being whisked away by a bagpiper leading our group as we walked towards the most elegant of trains.


Once we arrived at the train we were greeted by Michael, the General Manager of the Royal Scotsman, and Mike, our outstanding train Concierge. Meeting Michael and Mike was just the beginning of the excellent experience. Next we met Konrad and Nick who are the mixologists on the train (aka bartenders where I come from)…upon returning from all excursions we were always met at the door to the train with their refreshing and creative concoctions. At any time, you can make your way to the Observation Car for your favorite choice of beverage ordered from an expansive selection (i.e. coffee, tea, wine, soda, cocktail, etc.). Nick took great pleasure in carefully preparing a “spicy Bloody Mary” for Carol and me…and although cautious that it may be too spicy he underestimated the “Texans”.


Next we had the pleasure of meeting the lovely and charming Sammie, and the ever present Simon, who took care of our every need in the two dining cars, The Raven and The Victory, aboard the Royal Scotsman. The food and service on the Royal Scotsman are outstanding…not a hiccup along the way. Yes, for those with a discerning palate you can even have haggis for breakfast.


Sammie visits with each passenger prior to each meal to describe what the “chef” has planned for the meal. Should you have any dietary restrictions or should you wish to make a change to the menu…they welcomed the challenge of preparing an alternative. Of course, it is best to identify any special dietary needs before departing the First Class lounge prior to boarding the Royal Scotsman but we challenged them with last minute changes which they graciously accommodated. The selection of wines served with lunch and dinner were of great quality and vintages.


Every evening guest gather in the Observation Car for cocktails and discussions of their daily activities. Evening entertainment included singers, musicians, and a Highlands Storyteller. There are two (2) formal nights during the four-day journey aboard the Royal Scotsman. Being from the South, I never had the pleasure of wearing a skirt. However, for one of the two nights I did wear a kilt. I rented my kilt from Geoffrey Tailor, 57-59 High Street, in Edinburgh…a first-class experience and easy to do (including shoes, socks, shirt, bow tie, about 75 pounds).


At every stop, you are met by the Royal Scotsman Motorcoach and its driver Kevin. The 42-passenger Motorcoach, which is the same color and design as the train, traveled the narrow roads of the Highlands to meet and safely transport us to our planned activity for the day. Kevin, washes and cleans the Motorcoach every day…not by carwash, but by hand…and every day. Awaiting your return to the Motorcoach is always a friendly smile, and stocked with a selection of fruits, water and sodas.


With interesting stops in Kyle of Lochalsh -Keith, Plockton, Inverness, Boat of Garten, Dundee, and Perth our journey included a personal invitation to Ballindalloch with its magnificent Castle and gardens. We were met in a misting rain by Mrs. Claire Macpherson-Grant Russell and Mr. Oliver Russell owners of the Castle for a personal guided tour. Their family legacy and history is found everywhere in the Castle…from family pictures on the walls, to artwork, to the furnishings. The 25,000 acre estate has been in the family since 1546. Ballindalloch is well known for its cattle herd which is the oldest Aberdeen Angus herd in the world, and are only raised for purposes of preserving the breed. A tip for those who believe they have visited too many castles along the way…don’t miss this one!


In addition, during our inclusive daily activities, passengers found time to golf (9 holes), fly fish, clay pigeon shooting, take a 4 x 4 nature tour to see Highland cattle, deer, or for those who really love nature a guided walking tour through the Caledonian pine forest at Rothiemurchus Estate. We visited the Glen Ord distillery for a tour and an expanded discussion on the tasting of different types of scotch whiskey. If you find yourself at Glen Ord, make sure to taste the “Singleton” as it is produced at the distillery and is exclusively distributed in Asia (cannot be purchased in the USA). It is an outstanding 12-year old scotch whiskey.


Our last stop on the journey was at Scone Palace, home to the Earls of Mansfield. Its origins date back fifteen hundred years. The Place is surrounded by beautiful gardens and woodlands. The gift shop has many items for purchase and I did remit a few pounds adding to Carol’s never ending collection of favorite mustards.


The Royal Scotsman has space for 36 guests. Cabins categories include four (4) singles, two (2) doubles, and fourteen (14) twins. All cabin categories include a private toilet and shower with amenities. We enjoyed the coziness of a twin category cabin. There is no internet, no television, no radios (loud music in a cabin is discouraged as you may/will disturb your fellow passengers). Cellular phone service is limited while the train is en-route, but available during stops.


We had the pleasure of meeting new people, and experiencing a “trip of a lifetime” aboard the Royal Scotsman. The most difficult thing we encountered during our four-days on the Royal Scotsman was packing our belongings for our departure. We would have loved to stayed on for another journey seeking out the little detail we may have accidently missed.


Our sincere appreciation and gratitude is extended to the Orient-Express Royal Scotsman Train staff for an outstanding and memorable journey…it was truly a “trip of a lifetime”.


Carol and Doyle J. Girouard

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