The Orient Express
October 4, 1883: The Orient Express leaves Paris. Beginning on June 5, the Express d’Orient left Paris for Vienna, it’s terminus until this day. Then the route was expanded and began in Paris from Gare de l’Est or East Station and arrived in Giurgiu in Romania after stops in Munich and Vienna. At Giurgiu passengers left the train and were ferried across the Danube River to Ruse, Bulgaria where a second train went to Varna (also in Bulgaria). Then, once again leaving the train and traveling by ferry, passengers could finally arrive in Constantinople (today, Istanbul) making it, finally, a trip to the Orient. In 1885, another route was added which permitted boarding in Paris and arriving in Istanbul by train, with a brief part of the trip covered by carriage.
By early 1889 the train’s eastern terminus was Varna and people could then board a ship and arrive in Istanbul. Finally on June 1, 1889, the first non-stop train left Paris to arrive in Istanbul which remained the easternmost stop until 1977. After arrival in Constantinople, passengers could cross the Bosporus via ferries and then board the Ottoman Railways to head into Asia. Travel was suspended during World War I and resumed after hostilities ended in 1918. The Simplon Tunnel opened a new route with destinations of Milan, Venice, and Trieste. It took a special treaty to allow this train to run, since it did not go through Vienna, as was usually required to travel across Austria.
The 1930s were the golden age for the Orient Express with three parallel services running. The two above and also the Arlberg Orient Express which ran through Zurich and Innsbruck to Budapest and then on to Bucharest and Athens. The train became known for its luxurious travel accommodations. Sleeping cars with permanent service and dining cars with haute cuisine were responsible for making royalty, diplomats, and business people happy travelers. Sleeping cars were added to trains running from Paris to Calais which extended the services from one end of Europe to the other. With World War II starting in 1939, service was once again disrupted and did not resume until 1945.
After the war, fewer people were looking to trains as luxury or fast travel. Some of the lines did not reopen due to geopolitical issues. As borders were more difficult to cross, services became more limited. Shorter runs were instituted and used for daily travel between Paris and Belgrade and twice weekly trips from Paris to Istanbul and Athens. But even this limited set of destinations was continually cut back and different services were provided. The length of the rail system covered 1,200 miles by the time it closed in 2009. Today, there are some privately run trains which use the same name. You can ride one of these trains between March and November. A ticket from London to Venice costs about $3,120 per person but that does include meals.
Nothing gives me as much pleasure as travelling. I love getting on trains and boats and planes. – Alan Rickman
I have always loved to sit in ferry and railroad stations and watch the people, to walk on crowded streets, just walk along among the people, and see their faces, to be among people on street cars and trains and boats. – Ella R. Bloor
I was born too late for steam trains and a lazy eye meant I’d never be an astronaut. – Mark Haddon
I have written stories, essays, even whole books on trains, scribble-scribble. – Paul Theroux
Also on this day: Russian Surprise – In 1957, Sputnik I was launched.
Larger Than Life – In 1927, Gutzon Borglum began work on Mount Rushmore.
Thrust2 – In 1983, a new land speed record was set – over 1,000 km/h.
Smarten Up – In 1876, Texas A&M began holding classes.