Starting a marriage on track
Having met on the Trans-Siberian Railway Will Burton and his girlfriend decided to begin married life by taking the train from Paris to Istanbul
With a nod to backpacking, and a wink to flash packing, my wife and I set off on our own DIY Orient Express-style honeymoon from Paris to Istanbul, stopping in Vienna and Bucharest. We decided to have a train travel element to our honeymoon as we had met on the Trans-Siberian Railway in 2006 and loved the relaxing experience.
Long-distance train journeys can be surprisingly comfortable and enjoyable.
In Paris we stayed at the Banke Hotel, just off the Boulevard Haussmann, which was spectacular and in a great location for exploring the city by foot.
It was exciting strolling along the Champs-Élysées on the first day of our honeymoon, wrapped up against the weather, which was cold and crisp. The sky was constantly threatening snow.
We only had two days in Paris so we packed in all the main sights, as well as experiencing the artistic and bohemian areas of Montmartre and Canal St-Martin.
While walking along the Seine, we saw a Citroën 2CV screeching around the corner with a small sign advertising Paris Authentic. Once back at the hotel we booked a night tour of Paris with them.
At 10.30pm a beautifully cared for 2CV was waiting for us, engine roaring. With our four gears, we screeched away along Paris’ streets with our guide Jean Claude, seeing a magnificent Paris by night. We toured parts of the city we would never have found or seen by ourselves.
We caught the train from Gare de l’Est to our next destination, Vienna via Munich. In keeping with that leg of the journey I purchased a few cans of Franziskaner Weissbier and relaxed and read on the six-hour journey to Munich. With a short stop-over we carried on to Vienna.
We awoke to a grey, very cold morning in Vienna, snow still lingering in some areas of the city. With the style of the Orient Express in mind, we opted for another boutique hotel, Hotel de France. It is within minutes of the Innere Stadt; full of shops, restaurants and famous Viennese cafes.
At the Hopferl restaurant we had a heart-warming bowl of bacon and lentil stew with bread dumplings.
In Vienna it is very easy to overlook the magnificent buildings; because there are so many.
Every turn seems to lead you to another imperial architectural wonder. Unbeknown to us, Vienna has many Easter markets. Food and craft stalls, surrounded by thousands of carefully painted eggs were just outside the main shopping area.
We warmed up over glasses of glühwein and a steaming bratwurst and had a great introduction to classical music at the Vienna Royal Orchestra.
The night was topped off by a late dinner at the elegant Griechenbeisl restaurant. The age-old wood panelling gives the restaurant a rustic but homely feel. I enjoyed a succulent baby leg of pork with creamed cabbage and potato dumplings.
From Vienna we caught one of Austria’s newest trains, the RailJet, to a rain-sodden Budapest. We dropped our bags at left-luggage and headed for the Széchenyi thermal baths.
The baths, whose outside pool is at a constant 37 degrees, were the perfect tonic in a damp Budapest on Easter Sunday. With drinks available at the pool side we whiled away a few hours before our night train to Bucharest, Romania.
Our cabin was very cosy, complete with a sink in the corner. The conductor gave us a little welcome pack with some food and refreshments.
We soon settled in and read for a few hours before heading to the drinks carriage. We watched the dying embers of a Hungarian sunset while I drank a cold beer and my wife sampled her first, but not last, glass of Romanian red wine.
We awoke to glorious sunshine as our train trundled through the snow-capped Carpathian mountains. The previous day we had left Vienna during a snow flurry, we were now in shorts and T-shirts enjoying the warmth of the sun through the train window.
The Scala Hotel in Bucharest was a gem. High ceilings and dark stained furniture welcomed us to this quiet retreat in the city centre. The small cosy bar was perfect for unwinding and reading in after a day pounding the streets. The sunshine stayed with us during our time in Bucharest.
The historic city centre is going through intense renovations. The outside seating areas were buzzing with students and Bucharest residents enjoying the spring sun.
We went on a walking tour of Bucharest starting at Unirii Square park. The tour was free, but a tip at the end is customary.
The tour took in Bucharest’s humble beginnings, its communist era and the revolution of 1989.
We ate at the Caru’ cu Bere, a beer hall dating from 1879. The raucous atmosphere was added to by what can only be described as a Romanian twist on the Flamenco in the main foyer.
The final leg of our journey took us from Bucharest to Istanbul. Apart from a quick change of train in Bulgaria, due to engineering works, we spent the afternoon and evening reading and relaxing as we made our way across the Bulgarian countryside to Turkey.
We opted to keep with the Orient Express tradition and booked an old, yet elegant hotel, the Grand Hotel de Londres.
There is a superb rooftop bar affording expansive views of the majestic Golden Horn. The hotel is in the Beyoglu, or Pera, area of the city, just south of Taksim Square.
The area is bursting with all manner of bars and restaurants, from chic to traditional.
We spent a lot of our time in Beyoglu, exploring the bric-a-brac shops and watching Istanbul life through a café window.
We also experienced the awe-inspiring old city dotted with mosques and minarets, none more breathtaking than Sultan Ahmet (Blue mosque) and Suleymaniye mosque.
The five-star Pera Palace hotel, just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel, underwent a huge renovation in 2010.
Agatha Christie stayed there after her journey on the Orient Express. We decided to eat there on our last night and started our dining experience in its Art Deco restaurant, Agatha, with a crisp glass of prosecco. This was followed by a procession of culinary masterpieces.
We concluded our experience with a few cocktails in the Orient Bar, to toast our wonderful few weeks.