Posted on 16 September 2011
British train travel isn’t as glorious as its continental European counterparts, but a trip on a Virgin Trains is as rock and roll as it gets on the island.
Services in Britain were privatized 15 years ago to mixed reviews: Higher fares resulted, as did safer services, longer repair times began, though customer service was also improved. Virgin has been equally criticised along with the competition. What sets them apart is that Virgin gets right so many things that other services get so wrong. As the red and silver-striped front of a Virgin train pulls into the station, it is clear that if train travel were a popularity contest, Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains are definitely ‘the cool kids’ on the block.
The staff is much more open and friendly than other train services; the announcers even show a sense of humor when and where appropriate. I have actually laughed out loud during many a trip.
Virgin trains also run frequently and reliably. All trains leave from London Euston station with Pendolino trains heading north to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, and their Super Voyager trains which run northwest to Chester, North Wales, the West Midlands and Scotland. Trains to Manchester leave three times an hour, or every 20 minutes, which means that seats are rarely over-sold and there is plenty of space.
Fares are reasonable, seats are easy to book online, and if date of travel is known far enough in advance (3 months or so), seats to Manchester can sell for as little as £14 ($22) round-trip, though these tend to be windowless seats with no view.
Lucky enough to travel first class? The first class service offered by Virgin is rivalled only by that offered by Eurostar, a much more exclusive and expensive service between London and Paris/Brussels. Bottomless coffee, tea, soft drinks and wine (evenings only), genuinely delicious meals, spacious seating with all necessary plugs and free wi-fi services are all included, and on weekends anyone can bump their ticket up to first class for only £15.
During a trip from London to Liverpool last December, the apologetic train manager announced that our train would only be serving a snack service as it was considered an afternoon trip, and that any first class travelers who wished for a full meal should change at the next stop and board the following train, where the staff would graciously serve hot meals.
The snack was still delicious and I arrived on time, early even. As the trendy Virgin train arrived at the station, I couldn’t help but feel a bit smug that I chose to travel with Virgin to Liverpool. Hanging with ‘the cool kids’ made my travel in dead of winter an absolute breeze.
Posted on 10 January 2010
By Jessica Ainlay
Photos by Daniela Heinrich
Every once in a while I have one of those perfect weekend getaways where everything goes exactly according to plan. My recent trip to Manchester was by no means one of them. The train ride on Virgin Trains was flawless, but the blizzard began 20 minutes outside of Manchester Piccadilly station and snow continued to fall as I boarded the train back to London 3 days later. Thanks to the Velvet Manchester hotel, however, I could have cared less about the snow piling up outside. After all, I spent more time happily cuddled under the sheets of my sleigh bed than out discovering Manchester.
Velvet Manchester hotel is a 4 star boutique hotel set directly on Canal Street, the throbbing epicentre of Manchester’s famed gay scene (the original British version of Queer as Folk was filmed here). The hotel is easy to find on arrival, at just a five-minute walk from the train station where London trains enter and exit the city.
The 19-room hotel has a sexy vibe to it, and its bar and restaurant spill over with Mancunians, and the hotel is well-insulated from its late-night buzz. Nothing can be done to block out the noise of clubgoers crawling out Canal Street hotspots, though. Manchester is a party town and Canal Street is party central, so guests in rooms to the back of the hotel should be ready to join ‘em, because these party people can’t be beaten.
Joining in must be much easier when not having a spontaneous love affair with the hotel room, like I am. The ambience of my room is Sinner/Savior. A painting of Jesus with a thorn crown hangs on one wall, while an even larger picture of J.C. in chains hangs over the bed. They say a room without a mirror is a room without a soul and in this soul-searching room of sin and sacrifice hangs a giant golden framed mirror which reflects the exposed brick walls and religious imagery. The showpiece is the room’s king-size sleigh bed. Once I lay my head on the perfectly plump pillows, I am instantly cocooned into a cloud of slumber heaven. Sure, every once in a while I gaze up at the flat screen TV or hit shuffle on my iPod nestled purposefully in the docking station provided, but for the most part, I take part in the sport of extreme relaxing broken up by short day trips out into the snowy wonders of Manchester in winter. The bathroom is hi-tech with motion-sensored nightlights and mist-free mirrors, and the bio free REN toiletries are a nice change from the usual corporate toiletry brands.
The knock on the door at 8pm on Saturday night startles me, and as I rush to get to the door in my hotel costume of fluffy white bathrobe and clean white slippers I cannot imagine who this might be. A smiling hotel employee stands at the door asking me if there is anything I need, ma’am? Is this some sort of turndown service? I made no such request and not sure whether this is ambitious service or an intrusion. The hotel service is generally very good, with freshly cut limes and fresh milk and cookies in the room daily.
After a day of battling the elements on Sunday to Urbis, the Manchester Art Gallery and some shopping in the Northern Quarter, dinner by way of room service from the restaurant seems the best idea. The food arrives in fifteen minutes, but the meals were much simpler and less appetizing than they sounded on the menu.
If there were any misgivings about my stay at all, a browse through the guestbook during check out left me with an excellent overall impression of the place. Guests have dutifully entered enthusiastic comments like Sandy from Ohio: ‘OMG! Most comfortable bed ever!’ and Vikki from London: ‘Seriously, the best hotel in Manchester!’
While I wouldn’t go that far, Vikki (Manchester is home to several world-class quality hotels), I would agree with Sandy from Ohio and say, omg, best bed ever.
Rooms at the Velvet Manchester start at £85 for a King Room, £135 for Balcony King and £185 for a Penthouse Suite. For more information on Velvet Manchester visit www.velvetmanchester.com
For all things Manchester visit www.visitmanchester.com
Virgin Trains travel to Manchester from London Euston station in 2.5 hours. Visit www.virgintrains.co.uk for more information and tickets.