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Travel on the Orient Express: A closer look at the most iconic European locomotive

Posted on December 21, 2017

By Beth Scanlon

The Orient Express has once again arrived at the forefront of pop culture, with the 2017 movie retelling of Agatha Christie’s famous 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express. What better location could there be for a murder mystery than a sleek passenger car train traveling across the picturesque landscape of Europe?

The original Orient Express, or Express d’Orient, made its inaugural journey in 1883 traveling from Paris to Constantinople, now Instanbul. The idea for the Orient Express arose when a Belgium businessman, Georges Nagelmackers, traveled through America and became enthralled with the advancements and luxuries in rail travel; he was especially impressed with George Pullman’s sleeper cars. He came back from that trip and formed the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL).  It took some time, but he formed deals with various railway companies, which would provide the locomotives, stations, and track. On its end, CIWL would provide the staff, sleeper cars, and dining cars.

The first journey from Paris to Constantinople took more than 80 hours. The rail line was not completed until 1889; once complete, the one-way trip was completed in about 68 hours. In addition to the twice-weekly trips from Paris to Constantinople, the luxury train ran daily from Paris to Munich, Vienna, and Budapest.

Nagelmackers ensured his trains felt more like the finest hotels in Europe. Passengers were presented with detailed wood paneling, lux leather armchairs, silk sheets, and restaurant cars that became known for the high quality of the cuisine served.

Through the years, the Orient Express, officially renamed so in 1891, had many famous guests: Ferdinand of Bulgaria, King Leopold II of Belgium, Czar Nicholas II, French President Paul Deschanel, even Agatha Christie herself, who was inspired by the train itself as well as the guests onboard.

Unbeknownst to them, passengers boarded the last descendant of the original Orient Express for the final ride in 2009. But train enthusiasts can still get a feel for the luxury original travelers experienced in their long distance rail travel by booking a trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) in restored original Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits cars from the 1920s. A quick trip from Paris to London (same day arrival) will set you back about $700, while travel from London to Verona (next day arrival) runs to the tune of $2,800.

Or you can see what inspired the Orient Express by taking a ride on the Essex Clipper dinner train, which consists of restored 1920s Pullman diners, pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive.  Visit us at to learn more.

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