To travel on the legendary Orient Express – either to reach European cities for business or as an extracurricular experience – is an unforgettable almost dreamlike journey into rich interiors, impeccable service and mythical legends. Who can forget Agatha Christie´s "Murder on the Orient Express" or the extravagant stories of the elegant first class trains of the 1920´s or late 19th Century.
The Orient Express has been bombed, shot at and marooned in snow drifts. Its also an experiment in first class entrepreneurship. First created in 1864 by innovative British railway builder, George Mortimer Pullman, the "luxury´ trains featured opulence beyond anything existing in Europe at the time. For the first time meals were served on a train and electricity illuminated the carriages while the décor surpassed anything yet seen in England.
ROYALTY, CELEBRITIES, COURTESANS AND SPIES
By the turn of the century, the great age of rail travel was in full swing and by 1921 the Orient-Express extended the Simplon-Orient-Express route from London to Istanbul, an annual 15 day event that still occurs. The train´s popularity peaked during the next two decades with elaborate meals, decadent company and fine wines characterising this golden era of rail travel. Royalty, celebrities, courtesans and spies intermingled as they travelled in opulence throughout Europe.
The Second World War and air travel decreased the popularity of the Orient Express until by May 1977, its final run consisted of just one shabby sleeping compartment and three day cars.
Jim Sherman, an American shipping magnate and train buff, pulled the decrepit train out of sad semi-obscurity soon after its final run, by buying a few of the original carriages at a Sotheby´s auction and spending $16 million to revamp the legacy. Currently there are several other sisters to the European Express, offering dazzling luxury train travel in England and Asia plus a few other unique "managed´ railway journeys in other parts of the world.
Next post sees our final look at the VSOE: including the Lad From The Outer Hebrides of Scotland and Rolling Stone’s Keith Richards.
Orient Express website www.orient-express.com