Some months ago, I went to the Train World museum in Brussels to see the temporary “Orient Express” exhibition, which presented the history of this famous train and even showcased parts of it. I have always been fascinated by trains and this exhibit seemed like a perfect way to go on a local adventure and learn new things.
Even if you don’t know much about the Orient Express, I am pretty sure that you will have heard of it and that it certainly evokes some idea of luxury and intrigue. You might have heard of or read the Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, or seen one of the movie adaptations, and maybe you also know that it was sometimes referred to as the “spies” train. Let’s embark on a short journey through the history of this famous train.
A history of the Orient Express:
Surprisingly enough, it all started in Belgium in the late 1860s. At the time, Europe already had its railway system but it was uncomfortable and dirty, and didn’t really allow for a pleasant travel experience. At the same time, travelling was getting more and more popular – among the richest families of course – and many luxurious hotels started popping up here and there.
During a visit in the US, Georges Nagelmackers, the son of a Belgian banker, got fascinated by the long-distance and “hotel-like” sleeper trains that he saw there, so he decided to bring this idea to Europe – and to improve it. With the help of the train-loving king of Belgium and its diplomatic ties, he got all the support he needed to create and operate a railroad that went, without stopping, from Paris to Istanbul: the Orient Express.
Silk bedsheets, luxurious suites, comfortable seats and the most sophisticated food could be found on board. You can then imagine that not everyone could afford to buy a ticket, so only the richest and most important members of the high society could use it: European kings, Russian tsars, famous singers like Josephine Baker and even international spies, like Mata Hari.
With this in mind, it is no wonder that the Orient Express inspired so many spy movies and books, and that so many people are still fascinated by it. Imagine all the things that have happened on board!
Now that you understand why I was quite excited to learn more about this train, let’s talk a bit about the exhibition. It was located in a beautiful train station, and the visitors had to go through a series of different gigantic rooms to see old posters, actual train carriages, smaller replicas, documents from that time, etc.
I found that it was really interesting and interactive, and that they did a great job at maintaining the visitors’ interest throughout the exhibit with interesting documents, some sort of holograms and reconstructions of offices or carriages. It was also possible to go inside some carriages of the Orient Express and witness how magnificent everything was inside the train. It was really like walking back in time!
I think that what I loved the most was definitely this: seeing all the objects, decors and everyday things of that time and obviously going inside the carriages to see how fantastic a ride on the Orient Express must have been.
Next step: taking a nice and luxurious overnight train, indulging in some fancy meal at the train restaurant (five-star chefs only please) and maybe helping to solve a murder or some sort of mystery on board – without being the victim obviously!
Would you hop on the Orient Express if you could?
My latest local adventures in Belgium:The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, Belgium
– Celebrating spring: the Floralia Brussels flower show
– The Ninglinspo hike in the Belgian Ardennes
– Lanterna Magica: an enchanted evening walk