The murder of the Orient Express

A day when the ether is humming with forwards about the Turkish ancestry of the American citizen who is to be the British prime minister, overseeing its exit from Europe, seems appropriate to dust off memories about how London and Istanbul were connected through Europe. In October 1883 Wagon-Lits (Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-Lits) created a train which ran from London to Istanbul through Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest, and Varna. The names enchanted me when, as a child, I heard my grand-aunt talk about her travel on this train. I looked at atlases and decided that I would change trains in Istanbul, and come home through Teheran, Kabul, Lahore, and Delhi.

Unfortunately, economics and international politics closed off this route by the time I was old enough to have a shot at doing it. The Istanbul service was closed in 1977. But when I lived in Europe, there was still a truncated service from Paris Gare de l’Est to Vienna Westbahnhof, with a through coach to Budapest and Bucharest. This was eventually discontinued in 2009. There was also a service which ran from Paris, via Lausanne, Milan (through the Simplon tunnel), Venice, Belgrade, and Sofia, to Istanbul which was also called the Orient Express (it was on this that the famous fictional murder happened). There are also various modern nostalgia services which come and go (talking of Michelangelo?).

So this whole thing about the Orient Express had dropped out of my mind until I passed Istanbul’s Sirkeci railway station and a bulb lit up in my mind. This was the building designed by August Jasmund which served for nearly a century as a terminus of the Orient Express (featured photo). I had very little time that day, so I just took a couple of shots to record the place, and promised myself that I would come back later to see it.