A page from my travel diary on the Orient Express.
It has been a year since we boarded the legendary Orient Express on its journey from Istanbul to Paris and I find myself reliving every step of the experience and sharing some of my memories.
Step Back In History
The original train "Express d'Orient" built by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL) started its journey in June of 1883 and made its first journey from Paris to Vienna. Paris to Istanbul route started in 1889 and the train was officially named the Orient Express in 1891.
The routes changed through the ages, interrupted by the world wars and with the advent of commercial airlines the prestige of luxury trains declined in favor of expedited travel time.
It was not until 1977 when James Sherwood bought two shabby carriages at an auction in Monte Carlo, remnants the original train, that the story of the fabled train was rekindled. He went on to acquire another 25 carriages and had them restored to their original glory and the train made its journey again. Now a part of the VSOE and the famous Belmond group, its runs from March to November from Venice to London but once a year, in late August, the iconic train makes its way across the European continent from Paris to Istanbul and then back again.
Istanbul To Paris
We chose the return journey and after having spent three unforgettable days in Istanbul, boarded the train at the Sirkeci station. Registration at the station was followed by a fabulous lunch and a send off with live music and festivities.
The train decor is true to the Art Deco style and brings back the glamour and luxury of the roaring 20's and we felt that we had truly stepped back in time.
We were greeted by our personal steward with an array of gourmet delights accompanied by champagne! A great way to start a memorable journey.
The Original bar car, along with the three restaurants (the Cote d’Azur, Etoile du Nord and L’Oriental) are situated in the middle of the train with sleeper compartments on either side. Reservations are made by the Maitre d and you get to dine in every restaurant on the finest French food.
Dinner on board is a formal affair and you will never be overdressed! So bring on the tux and the dresses, a little challenging to change in the cabin but hey, you are living in days of yore! A late night spent chatting in the bar car after dinner and then to bed.
Who would not want to wake up to sunrise like this?
Or a decadent breakfast in bed?
We arrived in Bucharest to a traditional bread and salt welcome and of course live music, which was present at every station.
We stayed at the famous Athenee Hotel, which was associated with so many spy stories, and steeped in intrigue in the war era.
Dinner that night was at The National Museum of Art of Romania and we were greeted by more champagne.
Evening attire was suggested so the tuxes and gowns were not needed but the opulent surroundings of the palace, accompanied by opera singers and dancers were a feast for the eyes.
The next day we went on a guided walking tour of the city before boarding the train. Lunch followed and after a few hours the train stopped at Sinaia for a guided tour of the magnificent Peles Castle, the King's summer residence. The fairytale palace set in the Carpathian Mountains is magnificent in its grandeur and we were blessed with a beautiful day to explore the surroundings.
Dinner was another formal affair with pre drinks at the bar. We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries with new friends and were treated with Michelin star cuisine everyday.
Morning brought on the resplendent city of Budapest and we left the train to stay overnight at the luxe Gresham Palace, Four Seasons.
We were escorted on a tour of the city which was followed by Lunch on the Danube.
Dinner was at a walking distance from the hotel at the prestigious Hungarian Academy Of Sciences. The best part of the night was the gathering with a few of our fellow travelers at the hotel afterwards for a nightcap and hours filled with laughter.
The day started with a trip to the Hungarian Parliament Building and we boarded the train for the final leg of the journey to Paris. Our live trio band on the station came on board with us and played through the evening.
Dinner was exceptional and the elegance of a bygone era was palpable in the air as the train glided along to its final destination, covering almost half of the mileage of the entire journey in a day. The music played late into the night as we sat in the bar car afterwards taking pictures, dancing and reminiscing about the past few days together, a time worth preserving.
As the train rolled past sceneries the next day, we really had a full day aboard the train. A note about the fabulous Bar Car, where I had spent time with cocktails, coffee and sketching.
Did I mention the Lalique crystal glasses and the sterling silver place settings for every meal?
Or the mahogany panels all over the train, polished to perfection, inlaid with Art Deco marquetry patterns. I could not decide which pattern I loved most, so I made a collage here. I hope to create a travel scarf one day inspired by them and maybe add to my travel series?
But, most of all, the impeccable service and the gracious staff. Our steward, Stefano was charming, funny and took care of every need before we had the time to voice it. I doubt that I will ever encounter a server like him again.
All too soon the adventure was over and our train had arrived at our last and final stop Gare de l'Est in Paris and it was time for goodbyes.
A memory that will last a lifetime, we had travelled the King of Trains and the Trains of Kings and Tsars, graced by celebrities like Lawrence of Arabia, Tolstoy, Trotsky and Marlene Dietrich.
It has inspired novels, the most famous being Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" and movies including Sean Conray as James Bond in "From Russia With Love'. The train had been called the spies express and reportedly Mata Hari had traveled on it at one time. The passengers with us had played a game guessing who would be the fiction characters from Christie's book!
Yes, it is worth every penny!
No, you will never be overdressed.
Drinks are not included in the $$$$ you pay.
Choose to sit with other couples, you will meet some very interesting people and make new friends.
Not recommended for children, the average age was over 45
There is a washroom in your cabin, the bathroom is at the end of the hall and is always spotlessly clean.
There are no showers but you stop at a hotel every other night, so technically you can shower every day. OR you may want to upgrade to one of the three luxury suites available on the train.
Do tip the staff but it is at your discretion.
A trip of a lifetime!
After seeing your photos on your Facebook post (and finding out links weren’t allowed), I followed your profile to find this blog! Thank you for sharing, it looks like a wonderful experience!!! Looking forward to designs based on it.
So glad you were able to take this trip of a life time. Thanks for sharing, it looks incredible. I can only hope that one day I will be able to experience a trip like this. You guys are a great couple, I am glad I have known you both for so long. Sincerely, John
Thank you for your comments!
Looks like a fabulous experience! Thanks for sharing! Had no idea it was still functional- was about to try the Palace on wheels in India. We were in Budapest , Prague and Vienna last Christmas but might check this out in the future! Btw you guys looked great!
this looks incredible! loved the insider tips at the end, too. thank you!!!