Like many things in life, the romance of travel has suffered in a too-busy, all-too-stressful, modern-day world.
But there was a time when traveling was luxurious and mysterious… a time when it was unheard of for someone to prop their smelly, bare feet on the back of your seat or chomp chips with their mouths open right in your ear.
If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to travel in unimaginable luxury with civilized people who actually respect your time and personal space, then pack your bags!
The Romance of the Rails
Back when men were men and women were women (yes, literally, but also in terms of manners and civility), traveling by train was a glamorous experience.
You wore your finest clothes, no matter your income level, and were on your best behavior, no matter your age.
It was often a rare and novel experience to take a long train trip.
The wealthy could travel for pleasure, but for many, it was out of the question. Travel of any kind was often dangerous, and travel by train was often saved for emergencies.
Later, when traveling the rails became more accessible for more people, trains brought to mind thoughts of romance and dreams of far-flung destinations.
And there was no train grander than the Orient Express – and no journey more romantic.
A Household Name
The Orient Express was not just a train.
The first one began carrying passengers in 1883 under ownership of a French travel company. The route would change over time, but then it found its niche – one that would allow the name to live in infamy.
By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when train travel was popular and glamorous, the Orient Express gained notoriety for being the most luxurious of all.
Its most-traveled route would become its most famous – Paris to Istanbul.
Paris was the height of fashion and culture. Istanbul, the height of mystery and all that was exotic and unknown.
It was the trip of a lifetime by train, and the venture was successful for decades.
However, by the 1970s, the Orient Express seemed to fall victim to time and modern living. People wanted to fly, the world was shrinking, and it didn’t seem to be worth the money or effort to bother with such an old-fashioned mode of transportation.
A Place In History
Everyone loves a great murder mystery, and one helped to make the famed Orient Express a household name.
You probably read the novel in high school by author Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express.
After your class finished the book and whatever lame project that went along with it, you were probably thrilled when the assigned AV kid of the day wheeled the TV into your classroom to watch the movie.
(This was not because you were riveted by the book and couldn’t wait to see the movie, but because it was now much easier to have a spitball contest or pass notes to your friends. And believe me, your teacher didn’t care because she really needed a break.)
And if you’re too young to remember Albert Finney as Detective Poirot – or even if you don’t remember the remake with Kenneth Branagh in the starring role – Johnny Depp was in the most recent version. If you’re a woman, you watched it just for that.
The book and film brought back the grandeur of traveling by train in its golden age. Everyone was impeccably dressed, perfectly mannered, and no one was ever inconvenienced or disappointed.
This is the premise behind current Orient Express journeys.
You’ll travel in extravagance with every need and desire accounted for. The best food in the world, the highest thread-count sheets possible, marble and gold and luxury at its finest.
But there’s a catch. There’s always a catch.
Have you recently come into money?
If you’ve recently won the lottery, discovered hidden treasure in your backyard, or your Great Aunt Mildred (whom you never met) passed away and left you a fortune, you’ll be booking your trip immediately.
For the rest of you, keep reading… but remember, this will only be a fantasy for you.
Over the years, successors to the original Orient Express continued service in some form or another across Europe, with its last journey taking place in 2009.
Everyone (well, not everyone. Not me, for example…) could fly between European cities with ease. And when things become too easy and normal, they become boring.
But what’s old always becomes new – and exciting – again.
Now, luxury train travel is popular once again. People are realizing they need to slow down and take a break from the rat-race and its ensuing heart disease.
So Belmond, a private company, worked to bring the old train cars of the 1920s and 30s back to life in all their exquisite – and sometimes ostentatious – beauty and offer the famed Paris to Istanbul route once again.
The Venice-Simplon Orient Express now offers several different travel options in Europe. A ride from London to Venice, for example, can be yours for a little over $3,000 per person. (Is that all?!)
The famed Paris to Istanbul route is offered only once a year, and the Orient Express is now adding new, more-than-luxurious suites for the voyage.
There are already several incredible and award-winning suites named after stops along the journey – Paris, Venice, and Istanbul.
In 2020, you will be able to experience the Prague suite with lots of dark colors, gold accents, and mosaics… the Budapest, with Gothic influences… and the Vienna — gold and green, classic and romantic.
Some meals are included, and the words “champagne car,” “truffles,” and “caviar” really popped out at me on their website. Say no more!
But if you’re thinking about running to your laptop to book your trip, you’d better sit down.
ONE night in one of the grand suites runs around $7,000 U.S. And if you book the Paris to Istanbul journey, that’s five nights. You do the math.
If you can afford this once-in-a-lifetime journey, take me with you.
If you can’t, join the club — but I bet you’ll be looking up the gallery of photos on the Orient Express website and having a little fantasy of your own.
Go ahead — you deserve it.