NEW YORK MILLS, Minn. — Just as the luxury airbuses of Emirates and the self-driving cars of Tesla embody the extravagance of travel today, it was an illustrious trans-European train that defined the golden era of rail travel nearly a century ago.
Along the rails fusing Paris to Constantinople, passengers cruised in the lap of luxury -- tranquil, pampered days turned into glamorous, pampered evenings -- while mingling within ornate carriages trundling across the landscape of Europe. A name synonymous with high-end travel, the famed Orient Express still arouses a sense of intrigue and romanticism years after the completion of its reign.
Yet while this grandeur is hard to come by nowadays -- albeit you can still experience it for a pretty penny -- a ride aboard the Whistle Stop Limited in New York Mills offers all the indulgence of bygone rail-riding glory days without breaking the bank.
Here, at the Whistle Stop Bed and Breakfast, guests are transported to a simpler -- and arguably more fashionable -- time upon staying in one of the inn’s four remodeled antique train cars dubbed the Whistle Stop Limited.
Salvaged and restored to their previous vintage elegance, the cars -- which range from a former day coach to a dining car -- are equipped with modern amenities for additional guest comfort. From mini fridges and microwaves to Whirlpool tubs and even a sauna, the contemporary intermingles with tasteful period furnishings and decor.
Perhaps some of the most unique yard ornaments -- even for small-town Minnesota -- the multi-colored fleet occupy the property of an imposing white Victorian estate, the nerve center for the train-themed lodging attraction.
And with active rail tracks nearby, there’s no question from where the charming theme hails -- the occasional blast of a train whistle giving added ambience and authenticity to one’s stay.
I’ve never been much of a train person. Once you’ve battled your way through New York’s chaotic Penn Station, strapped yourself into an Amtrak seat for 18-hours and returned awkward pleasantries with a strange seatmate, you quickly realize it’s not an experience one hopes to relive.
Yet on a snowy evening in New York Mills, the lull of piano music and the glow of twinkling lights lured me into the warmth of my retro night’s stay at the Whistle Stop’s green Palace Car.
Immediately, like an encapsulated blast from the past, I was transported to another time -- another century -- where fine taste was revered over the sterile monotony of today’s preferred hotel chains. It soon became apparent that the only traveling this train could now do was through time -- and to regard it with the likes of Amtrak would be comparing Beethoven to elevator music.
As I ventured further into the train for closer inspection, I noticed a welcome guide laid upon the antique bed, which revealed the car’s rich history: Built in 1909, the Palace Car was formerly a dining car used by the Northern Pacific Railway. But taken out of service in the 1960s, it became a meeting room for railroad workers.
Eventually downgraded to a storage shed, the neglected car was rescued from an existence of perpetual decay by Whistle Stop innkeepers in 1997. It then underwent extensive and detailed remodeling.
Today, nestled among its fellow refurbished brothers, the Palace Car is one of the property’s four testaments to the golden era of luxury train travel. And while the 2017 film “Murder on the Orient Express” highlighted the splendidness of the period on screen, I’d have to argue that the Palace Car does it better -- and the contemporary updates don’t hurt either.
For instance, the car’s complimentary WiFi came in handy when ordering dinner, and a soak in the Whirlpool tub provided supplemental stress relief to an already quaint and relaxing evening.
To stay in one of the cars is to be suspended in a cocoon, the Whistle Stop’s website said, and I couldn’t agree more: the experience is truly like being removed from the present world. The only reminder of outside existence was the occasional train horn, and although the noise failed to disrupt my sleep, I recommend light sleepers bring earplugs along for their stay.
The novel experience continued well into the morning when a knock at my door signaled breakfast was served. Delivered in a picnic basket full of surprises, my meal consisted of fluffy scrambled eggs, savory sausage links and warm flaky croissants lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar and accompanied by a miniature sauce boat filled with fruity syrup jam. The dish was finished with an accent of fresh strawberries and watermelon slices.
The basket also contained a pitcher of hot coffee and another filled with orange juice. And to my utter delight, there was also a small glass vase of freshly cut Peruvian lilies. Up until that moment of discovery, I question if I ever fully understood the power of the little details in life.
But upon reflection, a stay at the Whistle Stop is made up of those tiny but meaningful details, and failure to acknowledge them would be a disservice to the dedicated innkeepers as well as the powerful theme and history they accentuate.
Who can deny attention to detail when guests are treated to specialty-made soap in the shape of a train? Or, even reach for a lowly toothpick and uncover a small porcelain container resembling a locomotive. I’m completely sure a second night’s stay would’ve revealed additional curious delights hidden in plain sight.
Nevertheless, even a single night’s sojourn at the Whistle Stop B&B is an unparalleled opportunity to let off steam from the stress of life. One could even go so far as to say you’ll be put on the right track and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.