Almost everyone - whether they be a train enthusiast, or have read the famous novel by Agatha Christie or seen the film based on that story or are just simply curious - have heard about the Orient Express. Despite not being the fastest train in the world, nor having the longest route and not being connected with any special technological achievements of that time, it stirred up emotions relating to the mysteries of the East, and its name has remained fascinating ever since.
Also, it conjures up associations with luxury, comfort and wealth. It was the splendour of the Orient Express, among other things, which made the historic train world famous.
The initiator of the construction and development of the Orient Express was a Belgian industrialist, Georges Nagelmackers. The famous train set out on its maiden journey in 1883. The route was from Paris through Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, passing through the Balkans (Belgrade, Sophia, and Varna), to Constantinople. Initially more than one train set had to be used on the route, because in Romania passengers were forced to change to a ferry on the Danube and later, on the Bulgarian side, they continued their journey on a less luxurious train through Varna to finally reach Constantinople. The route of the famous train was slightly modified six years later and passengers could travel without the need to leave the carriage. Of course this was only hypothetical because it took 83 hours to travel 1,989 miles (3,200 kilometres). From 1919 the train departed from Paris through Lausanne, the Simplon Tunnel, Milan, Venice, Trieste, and Zagreb to arrive in Belgrade and continued on the former line's route. In 1953-1977, the Orient Express was known as the Simplon Orient Express (from 1962 - the Direct Orient Express).
Over the 100-year-plus history of the Orient Express, its route and stock were modified many times. But, its almost unspeakable splendour did not change, testified by the fact that the most outstanding artists of the times were employed to decorate the interior of the carriages. The idea was to make the passengers feel as though they were in the best and most luxurious hotels of the modern world. And it is not surprising that the price was accordingly “luxurious”. Only the very wealthy of society, such as aristocrats or outstanding busines-speople could afford a journey on the famous train. Since the fledgling air transport did not yet pose competition, the Orient Express enjoyed great popularity. The price of 500 gold francs - however high - even in those times was reasonable, taking into consideration the luxury offered by the train. Comfortable sleeping and restaurant coaches with mahogany finish, and even special springs alleviating vibrations and deflection on curves - these are only a few of the reasons for the high price demanded by the carrier. Even today, one needs to pay a very high price to travelon the Orient Express in its original, renovated carriages on a slightly modified route from Paris, through Budapest and Bucharest to Istanbul. The journey, lasting six days and five nights, during which the passenger has an opportunity to take in as many as seven countries, takes place only once a year!
World War I interrupted the service of the Orient Express. After the truce in 1918 the train was back on track and provided regular service until 1939, when another war again impeded travelling in Europe on the legendary train. It is worth mentioning that the carriages of the famous train became inseparably tied with the history of both World Wars I and II. It was on one of those carriages where the armistice which brought World War I to an end to was signed in Compiegne in 1918. Interestingly, 22 years later, in June 1940, in the very same carriage the French signed the act of surrender in the war with Germany. The service of the Orient Express was resumed after 1945. However, as a result of the development of civil aviation and the Iron Curtain dividing Europe, the train gradually lost its significance, splendour and sumptuousness which had been its trademark before.
In 2007, the Orient Express travelled through Poland for the first time in its history, making stops in Kraków, Warsaw, Malbork, Bydgoszcz, Poznań, and Wrocław from which it set off to Prague. The train comprising 16 white and navy-blue carriages was greeted by crowds of people at all the stations.