The Orient-Express to Sandringham

SandringhamEvery once in a while, there are days when I travel that I'd like to wake up and repeat the whole thing again because it was just so magical. In England, it was the day I boarded the Orient-Express British Pullman train to Sandringham, the Queen's country estate in Norfolk and where they spend Christmas every year. They open presents on Christmas Eve, walk to church on the estate on Christmas morning (and crowds line up to see them), and spend a lot of time mucking about their gorgeous grounds and gardens. It was a big deal when Kate married William and she went to Sandringham for the first time (last year, they decided to spend Christmas at the Middletons which was a surprise to royal watchers).

My favorite viewIf I did this day again, I'd have it be a wee bit cooler. It was during London's heat wave, and the train isn't air conditioned. But still, it was an extraordinary day. You board the train in London and it takes about two hours to actually get out of London because the train is so long and they have to switch tracks. But I didn't care - I was enjoying my orange juice, scrambled eggs, and smoked salmon with lovely company. Soon you're whizzing up to Norfolk.

Checking in at London VictoriaGetting ready to boardI could sit here awhileBrunch on the trainI'm still glad things can take my breath away and the first view of Sandringham did. It was so recognizable from all the pictures I'd seen but yet better than I could have pictured it. The house is so homey with flat-screen TV's are hidden in old-style furniture and a huge fireplace in the main Saloon. The heat outside didn't help but I still could picture a blustery, snowy day with all the royals dressed for the holiday. The women have to be ready - Kate had to change five times on Christmas day alone.

First glimpse through the treesI went through the house three times - the first time it was too crowded. And each time I went, I got new info from all the guides stationed in each room. There's a decent museum near the house, and a great gift shop and garden shop.

When I realized I had half an hour to spare, and I had wandered around the lakes, I found a huge, shaded tree, put my phone away and gazed at the house (munching on pretzels I might add). Thirty minutes well spent in the English countryside, without any distractions. Bliss!

My treeSandringham LakesWalking to the churchChurch of St. Mary MagdaleneOrient-Express is running this day trip three times in 2014 - book it this year or add it to your list of must-do's in England. It's iconic and a wonderful day trip from London. Check out my other favorite royal day trips here on my National Geographic blog.

Cheese course on the train back to London

The Orient-Express Hiram Bingham Train

I had my first truly luxurious train experience in Peru. Named after Hiram Bingham, who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911, this is one of the world's great train journeys. You start in Cusco, and it's 3.5 hours each way to a tiny town called Aguas Calientes. After arrival in Aguas Calientes, you board a 20-minute bus ride that takes you to the site of Machu Picchu. On the way there, there is some commentary and you're served a light lunch. I loved the fresh lemonade and hanging out in the back with the open-air observation car to watch the distinctly Andean landscape roll by.

Welcome champagne!

Andean landscapeArrival in Aguas CalientesThe closer you get to Machu Picchu, the more lush and verdant the terrain gets. On the way back, it's completely dark so you're served a longer dinner and the live music really gets everyone going. Two words: DANCE PARTY!! And a fantastic pisco sour. The train also arrives later and leaves later than everyone else - so you have a less crowded site at the end of the day. If you ride the Hiram Bingham, you can have tea in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel on site, starting at 4 p.m. before the train leaves.

Tea at Machu Picchu Sanctuary LodgeWaiting to board for the ride back to Cusco in Aguas Calientes

A perfect Pisco SourI love moments in life where you are with complete strangers that become very important because of what you're experiencing with them. This train ride was one of those days. I was with a fantastic group of people - much of the Orient-Express executive team that was there for the opening of Palacio Nazarenas, a fabulous British journalist, and the British ambassador to Peru. We were all on this incredible journey to see one of the world's most iconic sites. And it just bonds you in a way that you never forget.

New friends