Bert Gemmell, 59, has been a railroader since he was 14. After 42 1/2 years, he told me in a letter the other day, he took " early retirement. " Imagine, 42 1/2 years and he calls this early retirement . So much for semantics. What's significant is that Gemmell is still a railroader. After "retiring" he bought his own train, placed it on a siding near York, England, and converted the cars into a hotel/restaurant. His motto: "The customer is king and quality is queen." That sounds fair enough. And from what I understand, it's a blockbuster. Gemmell has entertained guests from the U. S., Canada and dozens of other countries. His train features a couple of coaches with bedrooms, private showers, central heating, telephones and TV.
Gemmell's menu sounds engaging. Such items as homemade game pate, haggis, cullen skink (a Scottish soup with smoked haddock, potatoes, chives and cream), fresh salmon, lamb with mace and thyme, and steak grilled with rolled oats and tomatoes in claret sauce.
After a meal guests retire to the Signal Box for a shot of spirits and a chance to see a high speed train whistle by at 125 m.p.h. If you arrive at night you'll recognize Gemmell's train by the ancient gas lamps beaming beside the main door. Rates: 30 single, 48 double for dinner, bed, breakfast.
Contact Gemmell c/o The Sidings, Shipton-by-Beningbrough, York YO6-1B, England.
Speaking of trains, the people at The Golden Spike in Fullerton will be running their Mardi Gras special to New Orleans again this year. Only instead of transferring to a hotel in the Crescent City, guests will use Golden Spike's pullman sleeping cars. None of that business of packing and unpacking. En route passengers will eyeball the scenery from a dome observation lounge.
Golden Spike's Mardi Gras Special leaves Los Angeles' Union Station Feb. 7, returns Feb. 14. Rates start at $995, including meals on the train. Contact Golden Spike, P.O. Box 3429, Fullerton 92634, or telephone (714) 680-5090.
A New York-based company is renting French country vacation homes. On farms and in villages. (They'll also rent you an apartment in Paris.) A place in the country will cost you $90 to $420 a week. During July and August there's a two-week minimum (these are the months when most of France is on vacation). Homes are available year-round.
In Paris, apartments go for $250/$1,600 a week. They come with linens, towels, TV, telephones. Maid service is extra, sorry.
Contact The French Experience Inc., 390 Fifth Avenue, Suite 407, New York 10018.
Mexico on Your Own
Creative Leisure, the condominium-villa rental group, has put out a new guide. Tells about condos and villas in seven resort destinations in Mexico. Acapulco, Cancun, Careyes, Cuernavaca, Lake Chapala, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta. Rates start as low as $33 a day for an apartment in Puerto Vallarta. Or there's a five-bedroom villa in Cuernavaca that goes for $625 a day. Not a bad deal when it's divided among five couples. Contact your travel agent or Creative Leisure, 951 Transport Way, Petaluma, Calif. 94952, or call toll-free (800) 426-6367.
The Museum Circuit
More than 100 leading museums of Europe are described in a new guide published by the European Travel Commission. Everything from the Prado in Madrid to the new Picasso Museum in Paris. Covers 23 countries. Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Britain, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Norway, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Yugoslavia. For a free copy send a stamped (22) self-addressed envelope to the European Travel Commission, 630 Fifth Avenue, Suite 610, New York 10111.
Angling for Guests
The Hotel Twin Dolphin in Cabo San Lucas has the hook out for fishermen. David Halliburton is taking anglers aboard his 47-foot yacht (a 700-mile range). "We go where the fishing is best," Halliburton says. A couple of staterooms, a lounge and a galley/bar that's open 24 hours a day. This is an all-inclusive package: meals, drinks, fishing license, bait, tackle. You spend three days aboard the yacht, two nights at Hotel Twin Dolphin. The price: $1,250 per guest. See your travel agent or contact Hotel Twin Dolphin, Suite 16005, 1625 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles 90015. Telephone (213) 386-3940. Outside California call toll-free (800) 421-8925.
Arizona--Michael Scott, Santa Barbara: Enjoyed Graham's B&B, P.O. Box 912, Sedona, Ariz. 86336. "Wonderful food, pool, Jacuzzi. Rates, $65/$95."
Hawaii--Doug Moon, San Luis Obispo: Enthusiastic over Kona Sports Hostel, P.O. Box 645, Kealakekua, Hawaii 96750. "Rooms are comfortable and the atmosphere is conducive to running, biking, swimming or relaxing to your heart's content." Prices start at an amazing $8 per day, $55 per week or $200 monthly. The hostel is seven miles south of Kailua Kona off upper Kuakini Hwy.