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09/09/2008

The GrandLuxe Rail Journey

By Stan Vaughan (Ph.D) IMS Trade Broker

(We appreciate Mr. Vaughn�s narrative on the GrandLuxe train and hope our readers vicariously enjoy the trip. Contact your local IMS Barter office www.imsbarter.com for further details on such travel opportunities.)  

Jet lag. Now there is something you don�t get traveling by train. Orson

Welles once said there are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror. But before I got to experience that, I had to first endure two hours of �terminal illness� brought by the long lines at Las Vegas� McCarran International Airport and the pre-boarding security checkpoints. I�m not even out of the terminal on board my plane to Washington (DC) and already I am looking forward to the stress-free, romantic and luxurious style of the GrandLuxe Rail Journey that awaits me.

A trip on America�s famous GrandLuxe Train (formerly the American Orient Express) is the dream of a lifetime for many. The GrandLuxe mystique, the aura of luxury, and history attached to one of the world�s most famous trains, is part of the attraction that had it heading my own personal �bucket-list� (things one wants to do before one �kicks the bucket�).

Sure there is South Africa�s famous Blue Train, which I rode in 1986, but that was a short leisurely 27-hour ride from Pretoria to Cape Town, not a 7-day journey from Washington (DC) through the Antebellum South to New Orleans. My expectations are as high as I am hopeful, for that once in a lifetime journey I can reminisce over in the coming years.

DAY 1 � The Journey Begins

After a transcontinental flight my weariness and jet lag disappear at the prospect of setting out on a long train journey. We picked up a rental car and in a short 3/4-hour drive we cross the Potomac River from Maryland into Virginia where the IMS travel department booked us a guaranteed late arrival at The Virginian Suites.

Next morning, it is a sunny day and the cherry blossom trees are in full April bloom! It is Day 1 of the rail journey but we have until 4pm to check in. What to do? So many options. Sit at the President�s desk in the oval office? Stand at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King delivered his �I have a dream� speech? Maybe go to the International Spy Museum, or enjoy chess with the locals in DuPont Circle.

Before checking in with GrandLuxe Rail at Washington�s historic Union Station, we checked out of the Virginian Suites nestled on a hillside in Arlington, Virginia. The inn was being remodeled, but our room was excellent�we could open our windows on the 8th floor and look out from a dinner table at the cherry blossom trees. With a refrigerator, dishwasher and fully equipped kitchen, we were able to have a candlelight dinner with wine.

Services at the hotel included room internet access, a room safe, two spacious closets, and a sauna down on the third floor. All but the room tax was covered by our IMS trade credits. With our rental car, we drove around the city and saw the Jefferson, Lincoln, and Washington Monuments after our check-out at noon. We dropped off our luggage for the train, returned the car to Reagan National Airport, and took the metro subway to Union Station.

Our 14 car train had 57 passengers. We were assigned the Leland Stanford Presidential Suite. Our GrandLuxe butler Mark, white gloves and all, showed us the features of our wood grained suite. Some of the features included: private bathroom & shower, closets, fans, blinds and storage drawers. The bathroom was stocked with excellent AVEDA products. While we went off to the piano bar for cocktails and a late dinner, Mark turned down the beds.

Everything was first class, not to mention complimentary champagne. At 8pm the train headed across the Potomac to Richmond, Capitol of the Confederacy and home of the Confederate White House and Museum of the Confederacy.

The Sunday evening dinner was superb and our server, Chad, was attentive. I had the blackberry salad and roast duck; my partner had mahi-mahi with pineapple. The duck course included wild rice and cranberries. For dessert they brought chocolate mousse, and cheesecake with raspberries and blueberries.

DAY 2 � Richmond, VA

After a hearty breakfast on our train, we took a 90-minute bus ride to Thomas Jefferson�s Monticello, one of our country�s foremost architectural masterpieces which is featured on the reverse of the Jefferson nickel. After a guided tour we were able to spend another hour walking the lovely gardens surrounding the home. For me, a highlight was Jefferson�s chess set, with which he played games against Benjamin Franklin during their time in Philadelphia writing the Declaration of Independence at the Continental Congress in 1776.

Lunch was at the historic Michie Tavern, established in 1784, where we had southern fried chicken, blackeyed peas, green beans, stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes and peach cobbler, along with red wine.

Our next stop was the University of Virginia, founded by Jefferson, and toured the Rotunda which features a famed statue of Jefferson. We also got to see the Edgar Allen Poe shrine. The celebrated poet�s room, when he was a student there, has been turned into a museum. Poe was the inventor of the detective, mystery and science fiction novels.

Returning to Richmond we took a tour of the city, the notable Capitol Square with its black iron fences, George Washington�s Equestrian Statue and illustrious Monument Avenue where Robert E. Lee, Jeb Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and Arthur Ashe statues are on each block.

After re-boarding the GrandLuxe in the evening, I realized that these evening dinners are almost beyond description. They are eight-course two-hour affairs, served while the train heads into darkness to our next destination. Dinners such as I have only experienced at 5-star hotels.

DAY 3 � Charleston, SC

We had a fabulous carriage ride around the Charleston City Peninsula, Battery Park, and all the charm of the Rainbow Boulevard of houses in the old aristocratic section. Our tour guide, Ginger, dressed in confederate cap and 1860�s costume, was funny and charming. The tour guides have been so great, all really relish and enjoy their jobs! I was shocked to see the confederate flag flying over Fort Sumter once again, but the tour guide laughed about how they had caught the Feds a-napping.

We shopped later at the historic Charleston Market Street, and were taken to Charleston�s most exclusive restaurant�Magnolia�s�for a great lunch. Later they took us on a tour of historic sites: John C. Calhoun�s grave site, Secession Hall and then the afternoon at Magnolia Plantation. We spent the day in settings like a Monet Japonesque Garden, took long walks, strolled along with pelicans and peacocks, and watched alligators sunning themselves.

DAY 4 � Savannah, GA

Savannah is known as the number one city for enjoying walks and strolls. It is designed with over 24 small town square parks with pathways, benches, trees and fountains. There are plenty of benches for soaking up the sun or enjoying the fountains.

In Savannah, we are taken to a prominent doctor�s beautiful home and served mint juleps and a wonderful meal in an Antebellum setting while enjoying the conversation and company of fellow travelers. After lunch we stroll over to an inn where we are served banana pudding for dessert.

What made this experience special was the opportunity to spend time in a private home restored with 19th Century period luxury and d�cor, allowing one see what it was like to live during that slower paced time. The rest of the day was spent on lazy strolls interspersed with shopping opportunities. Again, as always the evening menu on board was superb.

With Day 5 being a day of travel to Jackson (MS), passengers took the opportunity to sleep in late, attend lectures, or sit in observation cars and watch the scenery. I came to see that the beauty of GrandLuxe is how you experience meals in luxury while riding to various destinations, leaving you well rested!

DAY 5 � Rail Day

During our Day 5 rail journey, we had lectures presented by a university of Texas professor on three different subjects. As curator of the University Museum Collections, she brought dresses from the famous �Gone with the Wind� movie and gave lectures on other

Antebellum subjects such as manners for ladies and gentlemen of the period, and fan language. It was quite interesting to learn how ladies used different gestures with their fans, communicating to others across the room...without actually talking.

DAY 6 � Natchez, MS

After an all day train ride from Savannah through Columbus (GA) and Birmingham (AL) we arrived in Jackson, Mississippi. On Day 6 we left early by bus for a two-hour journey via the scenic Natchez Trail to Natchez.

Once home to more millionaires per capita than any city in America, 70% of the town�s population belongs to one of two different house and garden clubs that offer local festivals, balls and tours.

We visited three prestigious mansions and had lunch served to us at the Stanton, the most elegant address in town. We also visited Magnolia Hall as well as Longwood, the historic octagonal house and six-story national treasure. The Mississippi River was almost crested out, so afterwards our bus took a short tour to Louisiana crossing over and back to view the mighty river.

Day 7 � End Of The Rail

We end our GrandLuxe Rail Journey in New Orleans, which we will explore on our own. This has been the trip of a lifetime! I highly recommend you try it. I found many passengers who year after year take GrandLuxe Rail journeys to different locations. It really is HIGH STYLE!



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