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Poster advertising the winter 1888–1889 timetable
|Train length||4 to 22 coaches|
The route and rolling stock of the Orient Express changed many times. Several routes in the past concurrently used the Orient Express name, or slight variations. Although the original Orient Express was simply a normal international railway service, the name became synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. The two city names most prominently associated with the Orient Express are Paris and Constantinople (Istanbul), the original endpoints of the timetabled service. The Orient Express was a showcase of luxury and comfort at a time when travelling was still rough and dangerous.
In 1977, the Orient Express stopped serving Istanbul. Its immediate successor, a through overnight service from Paris to Bucharest—since 1991 only to Budapest, and in 2001 again shortened to Vienna—ran for the last time from Paris on Friday, June 8, 2007. After this, the route, still called the "Orient Express", was shortened to start from Strasbourg instead, occasioned by the inauguration of the LGV Est which afforded much shorter travel times from Paris to Strasbourg. The new curtailed service left Strasbourg at 22:20 daily, shortly after the arrival of a TGV from Paris, and was attached at Karlsruhe to the overnight sleeper service from Amsterdam to Vienna.
On 14 December 2009, the Orient Express ceased to operate and the route disappeared from European railway timetables, reportedly a "victim of high-speed trains and cut-rate airlines". The Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, a private venture by Belmond using original CIWL carriages from the 1920s and 1930s, continues to run from London to Venice and to other destinations in Europe, including the original route from Paris to Istanbul.
In 1882, Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian banker's son, invited guests to a railway trip of 2,000 km (1,243 mi) on his "Train Eclair de luxe" ("lightning luxury train").[not in citation given] The train left Paris Gare de l'Est on Tuesday, October 10, 1882, just after 18:30 and arrived in Vienna the next day at 23:20. The return trip left Vienna on Friday, October 13 at 16:40 and, as planned, re-entered the Gare de Strasbourg at 20:00 on Saturday October 14.
Georges Nagelmackers was the founder of Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, which expanded its luxury trains, travel agencies and hotels all over Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Its most famous train remains the Orient-Express.
The train was composed of:
The first menu on board (October 10, 1882): oysters, soup with Italian pasta, turbot with green sauce, chicken ‘à la chasseur’, fillet of beef with ‘château’ potatoes, ‘chaud-froid’ of game animals, lettuce, chocolate pudding, buffet of desserts.
On June 5, 1883, the first Express d'Orient left Paris for Vienna. Vienna remained the terminus until October 4, 1883. The train was officially renamed Orient Express in 1891.
The original route, which first ran on October 4, 1883, was from Paris, Gare de l'Est, to Giurgiu in Romania via Munich and Vienna. At Giurgiu, passengers were ferried across the Danube to Ruse, Bulgaria, to pick up another train to Varna. They then completed their journey to Constantinople by ferry. In 1885, another route began operations, this time reaching Istanbul via rail from Vienna to Belgrade and Niš, carriage to Plovdiv, and rail again to Istanbul.
In 1889, the train's eastern terminus became Varna in Bulgaria, where passengers could take a ship to Constantinople. On June 1, 1889, the first direct train to Istanbul left Paris (Gare de l'Est). Istanbul remained its easternmost stop until May 19, 1977. The eastern terminus was the Sirkeci Terminal by the Golden Horn. Ferry service from piers next to the terminal would take passengers across the Bosphorus to Haydarpaşa Terminal, the terminus of the Asian lines of the Ottoman Railways.
The onset of World War I in 1914 saw Orient Express services suspended. They resumed at the end of hostilities in 1918, and in 1919 the opening of the Simplon Tunnel allowed the introduction of a more southerly route via Milan, Venice, and Trieste. The service on this route was known as the Simplon Orient Express, and it ran in addition to continuing services on the old route. The Treaty of Saint-Germain contained a clause requiring Austria to accept this train: formerly, Austria allowed international services to pass through Austrian territory (which included Trieste at the time) only if they ran via Vienna. The Simplon Orient Express soon became the most important rail route between Paris and Istanbul.
The 1930s saw the Orient Express services at its most popular, with three parallel services running: the Orient Express, the Simplon Orient Express, and also the Arlberg Orient Express, which ran via Zürich and Innsbruck to Budapest, with sleeper cars running onwards from there to Bucharest and Athens. During this time, the Orient Express acquired its reputation for comfort and luxury, carrying sleeping-cars with permanent service and restaurant cars known for the quality of their cuisine. Royalty, nobles, diplomats, business people, and the bourgeoisie in general patronized it. Each of the Orient Express services also incorporated sleeping cars which had run from Calais to Paris, thus extending the service right from one edge of continental Europe to the other.
The start of the Second World War in 1939 again interrupted the service, which did not resume until 1945. During the war, the German Mitropa company had run some services on the route through the Balkans, but Yugoslav Partisans frequently sabotaged the track, forcing a stop to this service.
Following the end of the war, normal services resumed except on the Athens leg, where the closure of the border between Yugoslavia and Greece prevented services from running. That border re-opened in 1951, but the closure of the Bulgarian–Turkish border from 1951 to 1952 prevented services running to Istanbul during that time. As the Iron Curtain fell across Europe, the service continued to run, but the Communist nations increasingly replaced the Wagon-Lits cars with carriages run by their own railway services.
By 1962, the Orient Express and Arlberg Orient Express had stopped running, leaving only the Simplon Orient Express. This was replaced in 1962 by a slower service called the Direct Orient Express, which ran daily cars from Paris to Belgrade, and twice weekly services from Paris to Istanbul and Athens.
In 1971, the Wagon-Lits company stopped running carriages itself and making revenues from a ticket supplement. Instead, it sold or leased all its carriages to the various national railway companies, but continued to provide staff for the carriages. 1976 saw the withdrawal of the Paris–Athens direct service, and in 1977, the Direct Orient Express was withdrawn completely, with the last Paris–Istanbul service running on May 19 of that year.
The withdrawal of the Direct Orient Express was thought by many to signal the end of Orient Express as a whole, but in fact a service under this name continued to run from Paris to Bucharest as before (via Strasbourg, Munich, and Budapest). However, a through sleeping car from Paris to Bucharest — and even eastwards from Vienna — was only operated until 1982, and also a through seating car was only operated seasonally. This meant, that Paris–Budapest and Vienna–Bucharest coaches were running overlapped, so a journey was only possible with changing carriages — despite the unchanged name and numbering of the train. In 1991 the Budapest-Bucharest leg of the train was canceled, the new final station has become Budapest. In the summer season of 1999 and 2000 a sleeping car from Bucharest to Paris reappeared twice a week — now operated by CFR. This continued until 2001, when the service was cut back to just Paris–Vienna, already in EuroNight quality — but in both cases the coaches were in fact rather attached to a Paris–Strasbourg express. This service continued daily, listed in the timetables under the name Orient Express, until June 8, 2007.
With the opening of the LGV Est Paris–Strasbourg high speed rail line on June 10, 2007, the Orient Express service was further cut back to Strasbourg–Vienna, departing nightly at 22:20 from Strasbourg, and still bearing the name, but lost the number 262/263 which was owned for decades.
The remains of the train had a convenient connection from/to the Strasbourg-Paris TGV, but due to the less flexible prices the changing has become less attractive. In the last years through coaches between Vienna and Karlsruhe (continuing first to Dortmund, then to Amsterdam, and finally — partly from Budapest — to Frankfurt) were attached. The very last train with the name Orient-Express (now with a hyphen) has departed from Vienna at the 10th December 2009, and one day later from Strasbourg.
Though the final service ran only from Strasbourg to Vienna, it was possible to retrace the entire original Orient Express route with four trains: Paris–Strasbourg, Strasbourg–Vienna, Vienna–Belgrade, and Belgrade-Istanbul, each of which were operated daily. Other routes from Paris to Istanbul exist even today, such as Paris–Munich–Budapest–Bucharest–Istanbul, or Paris–Zürich–Belgrade–Istanbul, all of which have comparable travel times of approximately 60 hours without delays. Train services across the border to Turkey were stopped through several years due to construction works, but they were reintroduced in June 2017, however, ending in Istanbul's suburb Halkali, from where a transfer bus is provided to the city centre.
The luxurious dining car, where scenes for Murder on the Orient Express and other movies were filmed, is now in the OSE museum of Thessalonica. The local authorities plan to refit the train to make it available for tourist use around the Balkans in the near future.
In 1976 the Swiss travel company "Intraflug AG" has first hired, then also bought several CIWL-carriages, and operated them as Nostalgie Istanbul Orient Express from Zürich to Istanbul. In 1983 the 100th anniversary of the Orient-Express was celebrated by a trip of this train from Paris to Istanbul, and in 1988 it was run to Hong Kong via the Soviet Union and China. From there it was transferred by ferry to Japan, and used there for some excursions after regauging.
After the failure of the American European Express (see below) Intraflug became bankrupt, and the carriages were taken over by the Reisebüro Mittelthurgau. The sleeping cars and some other coaches (Pullmans, dining cars, luggage vans) were transferred to Russia and used between Moscow and the Mongolian-Chinese border. (The adjacent Chinese train was also branded for a while as China Orient Express, nowadays it's known as Shangri-La Express.) The remaining vehicles were used in Germany and Switzerland as diner trains until the company's 2003 bankruptcy. Since then the trains have been standing unused in different countries, as the new owners sort out problems with operations due to a lawsuit about the usage rights of the name Orient Express.
In 1982, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express was established as a private venture, running restored 1920s and 1930s carriages from London to Venice. This service runs between March and November, and is firmly aimed at leisure travellers, with tickets costing over $3,120 per person from London to Venice (via Paris, Zürich, Innsbruck, and Verona—also despite its name the train is running via the Brenner Pass instead of the Simplon tunnel) including meals. Two or three times a year Prague or Vienna and Budapest are also accessed, starting from Venice, and returning to Paris and London. Every September the train also goes from London and Paris to Istanbul via Budapest, Sinaia, and Bucharest—in the last three cities a sightseeing (and in the two capitals an overnight in hotel) also takes place—the return trip on the same route ends up in Venice. While the above-mentioned routes are available almost every year, some seasons have also included unique destinations, among them Cologne, Rome, Florence, Lucerne, the High Tatras, Cracow, Dresden, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. Such a journey is provided currently to Berlin.
The company also offers a similarly themed luxury train in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand called the Eastern and Oriental Express, and operates other luxury overnight trains in Scotland, Ireland, and Peru.
The Pullman Orient Express was established by the CIWL in 1994. This train has only Pullman and dining cars, but no sleepers. It's used for gourmet trips in France. After the legal disputes about the name it was taken over by the SNCF and operated since then as Pullman Orient-Express.
The CIWL archives contain more than 100 years of posters, photos, plans, and communication material that represents a tremendous interest for cultural, academic, or commercial projects. Creators and artists have been hired by CIWL since 1883 in order to create luxury conditions and comfort in travel, as well as a particular graphic style that is now recognized worldwide by its quality. Great efforts have been made to digitalize images (photos, plans, and posters), although vast paper archives remain preserved, waiting to be sorted and classified in the future. As of today, available digital archives consist of more than 250 CIWL posters, 800 PLM posters, and more than 6,000 archive photos, representing probably one of the most extensive poster collections in the world with works dating from the end of the 19th century to the late 1950s. These archives are regularly used for all types of publishing and media projects, all over the world, as well as cultural events (see below: Exhibition).
The glamour and rich history of the Orient Express has frequently lent itself to the plot of books and films and as the subject of television documentaries.
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