Orient Express from Istanbul to the Swiss Alps, a photographic journey
The recent Macfilos story on the Swiss alpine railways bought back memories for me of a quite remarkable railway journey I made in October 1982. It was in an Orient Express reenactment from Istanbul to Interlaken in Switzerland. We travelled in a train using the original Orient Express rolling stock and pulled for much of the journey by steam locomotives. As I recollect, at that time the carriages were owned by a Swiss railway enthusiast who also ran a travel company.
It was a no-expense-spared journey with a chef from Maxims in Paris preparing the meals in the tiny original kitchen. The finest French wines were served at all meals and the food was just wonderful.
Carriages were all original, even down to all the original fittings including the beautiful Lalique glass panels. There were attendants who brought around morning tea, folded down the beds at night in the sleeping compartments and kept coal burners stoked all night to heat the water which kept the carriages at just the right temperature.
Toilets were at the end of each carriage—with a drop hole onto the track. Very original. There was one concession to modernity—a shower car. The bar car had a piano and there was a pianist. All the staff were in period dress.
This was a best-of-everything journey and I was on it because it was a junket-my wife and I were hosting a small group of Australian car dealers who had won the trip in an incentive competition. Yes it was a tough job. But someone had to do it.
We boarded the train at Istanbul and we were pulled by a steam engine up to the border with Bulgaria and we went via Bulgaria, the then Yugoslavia and Italy to Switzerland. In those days Bulgaria was a very backward, strongly communist country and Yugoslavia was more open but still communist. We spent a long time at each border on passport checks.
There were stops in Sofia for sightseeing-it looked a grim place—but we were lucky enough to stop also in Venice where we sleeping on board the train in the main railway station. The organisation of the journey in those days must have been an enormous undertaking and it turned out to be a quite extraordinary journey.
After we arrived at Interlaken we had a day trip up the Jungfrau railway which featured in Mike's tour. The steam theme continued on the Wengen railway up to Kleine Scheidegg, with a vintage engine pulling us.
By coincidence when I was in Paris last July there was a major exhibition on the Orient Express and on display were the Wagons-Lits carriages which, I am pretty certain, were the very vehicles we travelled on 32 years previously—the fittings were identical. As I walked through the carriages with the exhibition guide I explained to her that I had actually travelled from Istanbul to Switzerland on that very train. She looked at me with an expression which said "poor old fellow he's very confused—who let him out on his own?"
I have never been into trains as a hobby so I cannot give any details of the steam engines which pulled the train. I was into photography then and can tell you that the accompanying photos were taken on an Olympus OM2. Sadly I did not take many photos—it was different time and we were much more sparing with our use of film—and those I did take have aged very badly. Indeed most are unusable. I took colour negatives and black and white so that we could have prints to show our children and friends. We still have the prints in a beautifully presented album with the menus and other souvenirs from the trip but they have gone a muddy brown.
The photos that have survived do give some impression of what was an memorable train journey.
You can find John Shingleton at his excellent blog, The Rolling Road