Now we know how the Granthams live

November 18, 2019

It looks even better, when you weren’t expecting it

The LNER (The London North Eastern Railway)

The 11:54 to Aberdeen (The Northern Lights)

The 15:30 to York (The Flying Scotsman)

It was when Carol and I were handed menus by the First Class carriage staff that I realized we had achieved a whole new level of British rail travel. I smiled aristocratically at Carol, as I placed my order for the Beef and Yorkshire Pudding and a glass of Cabernet. We had returned triumphantly to the realm of the English Leisure Class, and not a moment too soon. Harumph.

Carol is not getting bored, thanks to trains like the LNER

As I’ve written before, my prime interest in travel is to simply go. The best way I’ve found to go is by rail. Consequently, there is no luxury offered on board a train that is beyond my otherwise pedestrian tastes to wish to avail myself.

The reconstituted London North Eastern Railway debuted in 2018 and introduced its Azuma class of trains earlier this year. Previously, only France’s TGV and Spain’s RENFE high speeds met my ridiculously inflated expectations for public transportation. (Italy’s Frecciarossa line would probably have made the grade as well, but were not available through the Eurail Pass, so the hell with them.)

Losing ourselves in the pastoral English countryside

The Azuma that took us from York in England to Aberdeen in Scotland carried us along smoothly at 125mph, past checkerboard meadows dotted with sheep and the rugged Scottish coast, without me spilling a dollop of Yorkshire gravy or a drop of serviceable red wine. We spent a total of 7 ½  hours aboard trains that day, yet arrived in Aberdeen refreshed and looking forward to more.

We caught up with the Azuma again on our way back from Scotland to York, and another opportunity for their Beef and Yorkshire Pudding greeted us, along with beautiful views of the Scottish Highlands, this time under partly cloudy skies.

Somewhere over the rainbow…by rail.

Since this was our first experience using the Eurail Pass in the UK, which became available for the first time this year, I traveled with the usual menu of my neurotic anxieties on full display. As with most all of those anxieties, these were also without merit. Ticket agents and conductors reviewed our passes as if they’d been around all along. All train lines operating under the British rail umbrella were available to us. But the best surprise of all was the no-charge fee for first class seat reservations. (Throughout Europe those ran at €10 to €20 a pop, adding a couple of hundred dollars to the cost of the Pass. Not so in the UK, making the Eurail Pass quite a nifty bargain.)

The full month we spent in Britain passed so delightfully, it seemed over before we knew it. (We’re back home as I write this, but still have some stories to tell about Aberdeen, Inverness, York and Oxford for all those who may be interested.) By the time I finish writing up our UK trip, it will be time to tell you about our next Amtrak experience aboard The City of New Orleans. Spoiler: I’m not anticipating gushing over Amtrak’s recently announced new food service. Gone, apparently, are the kitchen and dining room. “We have exciting news,” Amtrak recently wrote in an email about our upcoming City of New Orleans trip. They’re calling it “flexible dining,” as in plastic plates and utensils and pre-packaged meals. In other words, coach class airline food. The Flying Scotsman, they’re not.


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