13 July 2014

Golden Eagle - 25 years of luxury train travel memories

Restaurant car

Luxury train travel has that old fashioned decadent feeling; Evenings on board listening to the pianist while the world goes by with a glass of champagne and a good intelligent conversation about the most wonderful trip you took last year. This is the image that books like Murder in the Orient Express evoke.

They are also tales of a world gone by. With planes and better roads trains have been relegated to second class citizens. Or, luckily, a luxury affair. 

A few routes are still best covered from the railway window and travel companies are still offering a once in a lifetime experiences on board luxury trains. In fact, this travel niche is expanding.

Silver cabin

Golden Eagle Luxury Trains has been running private train journeys across much of the world for the last 25 years and this year celebrates the 25th anniversary with a trip from Moscow to Ulaan Bataar culminating with the Nadaam Festival in mid July.

The Trans-Mongolian journey covers an incredible distance and reminds you of how large Russia is. Tim, the owner of Golden Eagle, was on board for this  conmemoration trip. 

Trans-Siberian express train

Twenty five years of private train travelling have no doubt provided with numerous anecdotes and memorable experiences. Organising such a complex trip along the most remote parts of Russia was not easy at a time when foreigners were a rare sight. On one occasion in the late 90s the train was received at a station in Siberia by an entire school class. The teacher thought that it would be interesting for the children to interact with foreigners but the train was delayed and only made it to the station at 2,30am. The rumour travelled fast on the railway and at a later station, a village had heard that there was a train carrying the Queen of England and the entire population congregated at the station to see her. Having no other option but not to disappoint the eager audience Tim decided to dress a crew member as Prince Charles and sign autographs for the crowd.

The view from the window

Celebrities or well known figures have been a common sight. A famous British comedian decided to take over the umbrella on one of the daily tours of a city and turned it into a comedy show. On the last night, he put on a drag performance for the passengers. Wealthy families have also travelled on the train, as have members of the royalty. 

The Golden Eagle started as a passenger train around Poland and the old Soviet states. The full Trans-Siberian journey kicked off in the 90s and has since crossed the entire country several times. From Moscow to Vladivostok, on the BAM in the northern even more remote territories of Russia and, more recently, on trips to the arctic on the border with Norway for a truly white and magical journey. 

Along Lake Baikal

Tim admits that most passengers are pretty accommodating and they have had few special requests. Except for that time some members of the Saudi Royal family wanted to book the entire train but would not decide on which of the routes they wanted to travel until last minute requiring for several tours to be cancelled just for them.

The bar compartment
Organising off train excursions and trips required a lot of preparation and last minute change management in the beginning. For the Nadaam Festival once the Government booked out accommodation for government dignitaries last minute in the only hotel the city had so Golden Eagle guests had to experience the real Mongolia sleeping in gers for one night. 

To celebrate the 25th Anniversary Tim opened a 134 year old bottle of Port on our last night on board the train. In his previous life he owned a rare and exclusive wine business which gave him the idea for the private train travel company. A group of very wealthy loyal customers asked him to organise a trip to France's wineries, the price tag not being an issue. The trip was a success and was the beginning of the Golden Eagle Luxury Trains. 

The winery train journeys didn't take off but he will be closing the cycle in 2016 with the launch of a Champagne Express travelling across Europe's best wine countries.