The Orient Express — the very name carries an aura of glamour and mystery. Van Helsing rode it to his battle with Dracula. James Bond romanced a beautiful Russian aboard it. And Agatha Christie set one of the best-known murders in literary history aboard that train.
Now the original Orient Express is itself about to become part of history. On Monday, the route will disappear from European railway timetables, a victim of high-speed trains and cut-rate airlines.
The height of the Orient Express’ fabled luxury was probably in the 1930s, PBS travel guide Rick Steves tells NPR’s Scott Simon. That was back when the train was four sleeper cars and a single luggage car. “But in practice, the Orient Express is the practical way you get across the Balkans,” Steves says.
“Back in the Cold War, you were dealing with Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and barking dogs. And I remember everybody with a briefcase looked mysterious to me, anybody with an overcoat — what’s under that overcoat? And of course, it was that mystique of going east.”
Steves points out that there are actually two Orient Expresses. The one that people probably think of now is a tour company that renovates 1930s-era cars and takes people from London to Venice. It’s the other Orient Express that’s taking its final trip.
“The historic Orient Express — that’s the one that was established back in the 1880s — that took you from Paris or London to Istanbul,” he says.