Orient Express

Monday, 23 January 2012


One of my dreams, which I hope someday soon will become a reality, is to take a trip on the Orient Express. There has always been something appealing about long train trips for me, but the Orient Express combines my love of many other things: the unsettling process of travel, the promise of solitude, time for contemplation, historical enquiry and an abiding appreciation of quality.


The Orient Express has been the silent participant and witness of history. It has seen the signing of Germany's surrender in World War One, and in turn, France's signing of defeat by Hitler in World War Two. It has heard Josephine Baker sing a tune in the aftermath of its bombing and read Agatha Christie's literary homage in Murder on the Orient Express. It experienced famous Art Deco artists lovingly decorate its interiors with a quality, attention to detail and love for the arts which is lacking today in our bland and cost-effective trains. Its routes were halted during a divided Cold War Era, and yet it became a symbol of transcendence of borders and unity as Communist Europe came crumbling down.


The Orient Express is also a symbol of other forms of transcendence. Historically, it has put all manner of people from different social classes, nationalities and backgrounds together within its confined space, compelling a movement beyond social and personal borders. In its cosy rooms and sparkling dinning areas, I picture conversations that would otherwise have never occurred, secret romances between strangers who were never to meet again and intrigue facilitated by the throwing together of people.


The Orient Express is like a time capsule of history, but a changing and malleable one. Its history is not preserved behind inaccessible glass in a museum, but is constantly moving. It's a symbol of productive nostalgia: a nostalgia that doesn't seek to freeze the past as a single image or data, but rather one that highlights that history is constantly changing.

The sensation of the train rocking the many bodies it carried as it lulled them to sleep reminds us that their bodies too carried traces of history which they left behind in each compartment. History is embodied, not abstract fact. I imagine myself sitting within the train's interior and reenacting the same feelings experienced by all the lovers, people and travellers of the past. We will share something across the expanse of a moving history, and they will impart me with fragments and traces of the past via our common sensations.


But the most alluring aspect of the Orient Express is its introspective space. Within its interiors, you can imagine a process of closing-in on yourself, removing the mundane borders of everyday life, and being given the gift of doing nothing. It's like a movement within, into yourself; an elaborate process of contemplation that is inaccessible in the busy hum of work, grocery shopping and to-do lists. The Orient Express is like a small encapsulation of the process of travel itself: the freedom to interact with the world and with yourself without reminders of productivity. There's only pleasure.


Image credits: all images are from here and here, by Hotze Eisma photography.


Nancy Baric *negfilm said...

lovely! if travelling fell under an artistic category, i would suggest, literature!
nice post!

rooth said...

I too think there's something desperately romantic about just train rides in general. I would like to do this as well!

Leah said...

This has really struck a chord with me.

The part about it being productive nostalgia! I am enamoured of this notion, I have had a similar revelation whilst reading the letters of the Mitford sisters recently: it is so silly to be in love with one moment in time and space when the people who were there never were, and when they kept on changing and growing and adapting to new things and new times.

My own guilty secret is that Agatha Christie's book has sparked a long-held desire to travel on that mythical train for all the silly nostalgic reasons. But I think that if I ever did it, the nostalgia would be overrun by the magic of my own experience.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that in fifty or 100 years, people will look back on the interior of our trains now and these will say a lot about us, regardless of how we view them now.

Tana said...

You are right that orient express is like a time capsule of history. It is not only the way to travel through landscapes, but also,i think, through your feelings. A comfortable solitude surrounded by the traces of history. Have a wonderful start of the week, Hila!

Umi said...

Wow. After reading this, I realized that I want to ride on a train too. :)

This is really interesting. Makes me wanna travel now!

Stephanie said...

Oh my word, these images are amazing. What an amazing trip that would be!

HomeCollection. said...

One of my dreams too.
Thanks for all these informations - i didn't know all the history.

Miss Molly said...

this looks truly beautiful. adding it to my travel to do list, thank you for sharing!

Anna Emilia said...

It is always a dream to travel. Slowly. To see the landscape to change, to adapt with body and mind.

My favorite author, Kyllikki Villa, traveled by cargo boats from Finland to South America and everywhere in between. She worked on the way with her translations and kept a diary (later on an audio diary) about her thoughts and impressions of those slow days when there was only the horizon and the sea to be observed. Now those diaries are my favorite books. Unfortunately only in Finnish.

Thank you for this small oriental Monday morning moment. Happy dreaming about travels!

Christine said...

Great post! In junior high I was on the art committee that came up with and designed the theme of Orient Express for our class "prom." I've been obsessed with the Orient Express ever since:)

Accidentalwriter said...

Wow Hila. That was just beautiful. I felt like I'd been on a journey by the time I reached the end of your post. In addition to the magnificent photographs; your writing conjured up so many other images in my mind. One knows when they've read something special.

Tracey said...

This is so beautifully written Hila, and the accompanying images you've gathered together are just stunning.

Funnily enough one of my dreams too is to take a trip on the orient express. I'm not sure whether to blame Agatha Christie for planting that initial seed, or whether I'm just drawn to the romance of the idea.

Taking a long distance journey by train appeals to me for so many reasons ... I love the little mobile world that it creates, and I love the idea of being a passive traveller (looking out the window at the passing landscape) and yet actively moving at the same time. It's the best of both worlds.

Let's both book a ticket in the future! (I think I'll need to save for a while!) ;)

B said...

I wholeheartedly agree. Been wanting to travel on the Orient Express for years. The "gift of doing nothing" is one of my favourite things - along with the freedom to secretly watch and listen to strangers - about train journeys. I always take a notebook and a fiction book with me, but usually end up just staring out of the window and drifting from one person's conversation to the next.

Elisabeth said...

This is my favorite post you've done so far. I always thought I would take the Orient with a loved one or friend so I wouldn't have to be alone...but now I realize I would rather be alone and allow new relationships with strangers to unfold.

Camila Faria said...

I can't wait for you to go and tell us all about it. I wonder what kind of adventures you might find.

Camila Faria

Rina said...

Wonderful post!!! I would love to take a trip in the orient express!

Jane Flanagan said...

Such a beautiful post. I love the concept of "productive nostalgia". I too would love to ride this train.

Hotly Spiced said...

Wow! Wouldn't that just be the ultimate holiday. Great words and I love the images. Must start a savings plan!

Petra said...

I wish I had read this post earlier. I spent more than ten hours on trains today. I enjoy travelling by train because it goes well with my wandering mind. some of the things you wrote about would have given me some more food for thought. I will remember them for my next train journey!

Monica said...

i love love love train rides. even on the modern bland trains.
but like you, i've dreamt for a long time on one day riding this beautiful train, and touching its history.

i'm not sure it brought many different social class together, ahem, but yes, there were blurry lines in many ways.

that first image is delightful.

Linda said...

Great and unusual post! Love it.

Rambling Tart said...

Oh, this is one of my treasured dreams as well!!! :-) I got a little shiver of delight when I saw the title of this post. I hope these dreams come true for both of us very soon. :-)

Sasha said...

These photos have me in a traveling mood. I've never been in a train (probably because I rarely travel and when I do it's always by plane) but I've had some stupendous daydreams about this particular one and I will continue to have them. Great post with insightful comments on history!

sight said...

What a beautiful essay, very inspiring.

sheila said...

My mom and dad travelled the orient express in Europe in the 1980s. They have the most beautiful memories of their journey and I hope to some day experience it myself. I loved reading this, I'm sure it would be a contemplative, inward-looking time and space. Your writing is very beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

fifth floor apartment said...

damn. can i come with you? this is suddenly my #1 dream. incredible.

xo alison

Chuck said...

Loved your love post btw. Blissful stuff. Do you get that feeling where you heart just stops and sucks up in your chest when you read things like that? Like you can't breath? That is great writing and a romantic propensity, I suppose. Going to go find me some more Anne Sexton now... x

Pinelopi said...

Beautiful post! You made me think of traveling in a different way and especially on Orient Express, a 'time capsule of history'... I' d really need the time to forget about my life and get lost in this nostalgia.

P R I M O E Z A said...

imagine the things you would write on that journey...

angela said...

What a beautiful description of the orient express! Historically and aesthetically it sounds like the most lovely way to travel!

Marla Stromponsky said...

I loved this post! The photos are brilliant and capture exactly this slightly nostalgic Orient-Express Feeling. The only thing stopping me right now from hopping on the train are the prices: I once checked them out for an article - it's really expensive!

Maša said...

I always wanted to take a trip on art deco train. if I ever get married (but probably not), this is my honey moon choice. :D

Kultur und Stil said...

wow, what beautiful photos!
i love it!
xxx Anita

Hila said...

Nancy: good suggestion!

Rooth: I've always been deeply enamoured by the romance of trains.

Leah: I shudder to think what people in the future will say about us based on our trains.

Tana: yes, you've put is beautifully: travelling through your feelings.

Umi: I always want to travel :)

Stephanie: they are very beautiful.

HomeCollection: you're more than welcome, I did some homework.

Miss Molly: my pleasure!

Anna Emilia: oh it's a shame they're only in Finnish, I would love to read them.

Christine: what a classy theme! I wish I could say my school 'formal' (i.e. prom) was this classy :)

Accidentalwriter: thank you, I'm touched.

Tracey: we will most definitely need to save for a while, it's quite expensive.

B: me too, I love being given time to stare out of windows and not feel guilty for 'doing nothing'. Our lives are just too busy in general.

Elisabeth: I've travelled alone quite a bit and I actually find it more enjoyable. But it's also nice to share experiences with people, and of course, have someone help you carry your luggage!

Camila: sigh, I wish it were now!

Rina: thank you Rina - and more importantly, congratulations again on your big news!

Jane: I thought of you when I typed these two words :)

Hotly Spiced: ha, me too!

Petra: I spent about that amount of time on a train travelling from Newcastle to Exeter in England. It was so much fun. Happy train travels!

Monica: I'd like to think there was some social class crossing going on, ahem :)

Linda: thank you.

Rambling Tart: me too, fingers crossed.

Sasha: yes, it's mostly by plane these days for me too, but airports are becoming increasingly irritating places.

Sight: thank you.

Sheila: how wonderful, I would be begging them to tell their story over and over again.

Alison: if only we could go now.

Chuck: go forth and enjoy!

Pinelopi: I think we all need some time away from the daily grind.

Primoeza/Elizabeth: oh yes, I know ...

Angela: I imagine it's the best.

Marla: I know, it's really very expensive. But probably worth it.

Masa: mine too :)

Anita: glad you like it.

Fen said...

oh gosh, me too. It's so so expensive though - one day I hope I'll be able to justify it! :) lovely photographs, thanks so much for sharing them. I love your blog and always enjoy reading it so much, x

Kate said...

I took a train from NYC to Chicago once, with high hopes for the romantic dream of a train ride and was SO disappointed at how much it was like taking a public bus ride. Gross about as unromantic as it gets. But THIS is the train ride of my dreams.

Naomi Bulger said...

A journey on the Orient Express is one of my long-term dreams too. Your thoughts and insights put me in mind of books I used to read in my university days by a woman who used to dress in vintage clothing and ride trains, just to ride, to see, to experience, to go.

amy said...

what a dream!

Hila said...

Fen: ah, one day, one day :)

Kate: the only modern trains I really enjoyed long trips in were the ones in England. But yes, they do tend to be just gross in general.

Naomi: I wonder if I'll end up like that when I'm old, ha!

amy: yes, I wish it wasn't just a dream at the moment though.

Siubhan said...

I'm entirely in love with this post - I can't believe I missed it last week! I've always been fascinated by long train journeys too (crossing borders on railway tracks has always seemed wonderful to me - perhaps it's our island nations!). I'm also obsessed by the structures (mobile and static) that witnessed major points of history, especially those that encompass both the social and the political, and I love the idea that history is 'embodied' in the structures that witnessed it.

Your imaginings are beautiful - I hope you get to experience it one day!

Hila said...

Siubhan: thank you so much, I hope so too!

Sally said...

I love traveling on trains. I can't wait to do it all over the world...

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said...

This is definitely on my Bucket List!