GARETH CLARK

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Upfront - But the Ori­ent Ex­press still runs, right?

♦ SUB-EDITOR/WRITER ♦ Plan­ning a trip on the mod­ern Ori­ent Ex­press to hon­our a gi­ant of the rails

Ahh, the ro­mance of rail travel…

Yes, the Ori­ent Ex­press was the god­fa­ther of lux­ury rail ad­ven­tures, and this month sees 135 years since the first ser­vice rolled out of Paris on its way to Vi­enna on 5 June 1883, one year af­ter a suc­cess­ful pi­lot run.

Don’t you mean ‘ is the god­fa­ther’?

It’s com­pli­cated, so bear with me. June 1889 saw the birth of the train’s sig­na­ture route, di­rect from Paris to Is­tan­bul and pass­ing through Vi­enna, Bu­dapest and Bucharest. Then the 1920s and 30s saw it spawn sev­eral sis­ter lines with (con­fus­ingly) sim­i­lar names, ex­tend­ing its arm all the way across Europe.

Sounds good so far. What went wrong?

Purists saw 1977 as the death of the ‘orig­i­nal’ Ori­ent Ex­press, as op­er­a­tor Com­pag­nie des Wag­ons-lits binned the Is­tan­bul ser­vice and handed day-to-day run­ning of its lines to the na­tional rail firms of Ger­many, Aus­tria and France. It con­tin­ued in var­i­ous guises for the next 32 years, its routes shrink­ing un­til the last one – Stras­bourg to Vi­enna – closed in 2009. Ah, you mean the Venice Sim­plon-ori­en­tEx­press. This is the brain­child of Amer­i­can James Sher­wood, who spent years buy­ing up 1920s and ’30s car­riages (many be­long­ing to the old Ori­ent Ex­press – the one ditched in 1977) be­fore launch­ing a London-to-venice ser­vice in 1982, a time-frozen replica of the ‘Train of Kings’ at the very height of its pomp.

OK. I think I’m on the right track – par­don the pun. So how can I pay trib­ute?

In many ways the Ori­ent Ex­press de­fined the first great era of in­ter­na­tional train travel, so any long rail jour­ney with rich views from your cabin is ar­guably homage enough. Plus, it pro­duced so many sub­sidiary routes that a num­ber of trains travers­ing south­ern and east­ern Europe now trace its early days. But if you have the cash to spare, recre­at­ing the old London-to-venice route on board its mod­ern-day equiv­a­lent costs up­wards of £2,000 and is well worth the out­lay for heaps of travel nos­tal­gia in re­turn.

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